Myth Busted: 'Man Who Invented Flamin' Hot Cheetos' Discredited

May 17, 2021
Despite a movie and book in the works, Richard Montañez's rags-to-riches story is called untrue.

The rags to riches – or at least janitor to marketing rock star – story of the man who invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos apparently has been myth-busted.

Richard Montañez for a decade has been telling the story of how he dreamed up chile-covered Cheetos and believed in the idea enough to go direct to PepsiCo's chief executive to pitch his idea. And then he ascends through the PepsiCo ranks to become a marketing director.

Now that he's left the company, he's making motivational speeches, at up to $50,000 a pop, based on his (fabricated) story. Stumps have included Harvard, Target and Walmart, according to the Los Angeles Times, which dispelled the myth in stories May 16.

Montanez also written two memoirs, the second of which is expected in June: “Flamin’ Hot: The Incredible True Story of One Man’s Rise from Janitor to Top Executive.” Eva Longoria is directing a movie on his story for Searchlight Pictures, according to the Times.

But it's all a fabrication.

Apparently, there's been some doubt for years, but the LA Times finally got many people on the record, including "more than a dozen former Frito-Lay employees, the archival record and Frito-Lay itself."

“None of our records show that Richard was involved in any capacity in the Flamin’ Hot test market,” Frito-Lay wrote in a statement to 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."

“That doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate Richard,” the statement to the Times continued, “but the facts do not support the urban legend.” Frito-Lay added, "We value Richard’s many contributions to our company, especially his insights into Hispanic consumers."

One unsolved piece of the puzzle is why PepsiCo and Frito-Lay, who several times over the years had been made aware of Montanez's false claims, did not speak up sooner.

While the Frito-Lay and Times investigations turned up a dozen or so people who may have played some roles, most of the credit apparently should go to Lynne Greenfeld, "a junior employee with a freshly minted MBA [who] got the assignment to develop the brand," reported the Times. "She came up with the Flamin’ Hot name and shepherded the line into existence."

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