UPDATE: In a separate interview with NPR, Frito-Lay has seemingly started to walk back some of its initial comments. Though the company still admits they "do not credit the product creation to him [Richard Montañez] and him alone," the chip-maker tells NPR's Sarah Aida Gonzalez a separate "Richard Montañez product" was created and run through the necessary research and development channels. That product is still separate from one developed by a different arm of the company, which went on to become Flamin' Hot Cheetos. Our story as it originally appeared is below.
The creation of Flamin' Hot Cheetos is one of the most popular urban legends in the world of snacking. Richard Montañez was once a janitor at Frito-Lay's Rancho Cucamonga plan when he dreamt the idea up, or so the story goes. The tale suggests those Montañez reported to at the time dismissed the idea one time after another — but the worker needed to see it through. Eventually, as the legend goes, Montañez landed a meeting with top Frito-Lay brass, and the rest is history. Montañez's life story is so popular, it's even being turned into a feature film by Eva Longoria and Disney's Searchlight Pictures.
As it turns out, however, the story may not be all it's cracked up to be. In fact, Frito-Lay debunked the tale in a recent profile by the Los Angeles Times. The company tells the paper the facts simply don't align, and there's no evidence available of Montañez's Flamin' Hot Cheetos pitch.
“None of our records show that Richard was involved in any capacity in the Flamin’ Hot test market,” the chip-maker tells the Times. “We have interviewed multiple personnel who were involved in the test market, and all of them indicate that Richard was not involved in any capacity in the test market."
The company's statement adds, "That doesn't mean we don't celebrate Richard, but the facts do not support the urban legend."
The Times interviewed over a dozen former Frito-Lay employees as part of the, dare we call it, exposé — and managed to get the aforementioned statement from the company's PR department. The company did make sure to add Montañez did, in fact, rise through the ranks of the company, starting as a blue-collar plant worker and ascended to a director-level role in marketing. He just didn't create Flamin' Hot Cheetos, as he's claimed for decades now.
As the Frito-Lay archive states, Flamin' Hot Cheetos were created as a group effort between brand professionals at Frito-Lay's corporate headquarters in 1989. Furthermore, the company says Lynne Greenfeld — an MBA fresh out of school at the time — was the one to craft the Flamin' Hot name used in many Frito-Lay products to this day.
Montañez supported the idea of "his creation" by going on speaking tours in the late 2000s. In his new memoir — one that he sold in a fiery bidding war between some of the country's top publishers — Montañez details a presentation he gave with over 100 of Frito-Lay's top executives during his initial pitch for the product.
The Times interviewed at least 20 people who worked in the company's product development branch at the time, and nobody was able to recall a similar meeting that took place.
“If that story existed, believe me, we would have heard about it,” a former Frito-Lay product developer told the paper. “This guy should run for office if he’s that good at fooling everyone.”
Neither the producers behind the upcoming movie or memoir offered a comment on the piece.
Cover photo by John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images