Take a Look at the Real Picture Behind Richard Montanez's Claims of Inventing Flamin' Hot Cheetos

Take a Look at the Real Picture Behind Richard Montanez's Claims of Inventing Flamin' Hot Cheetos
Richard Montanez arrives at the Los Angeles Special Screening Of Searchlight Pictures' "Flamin' Hot" at Hollywood Post 43 - American Legion/Photo by Steve Granitz/FilmMagic

The inspiring rags-to-riches tale of Richard Montañez, the former Frito-Lay janitor who claims to have invented Flamin' Hot Cheetos, has captured hearts and has been recently made into the movie "Flamin' Hot," which resonated with audiences across the United States. However, the authenticity of Montañez's story has come under scrutiny, and it turns out that the real history of Flamin' Hot Cheetos may not be as heartwarming as it appears on the big screen.

Richard Montanez | Credits: Getty Images/Bob Riha Jr
Richard Montanez | Credits: Getty Images/Bob Riha Jr

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Inspiring claim to fame?

The movie "Flamin' Hot," currently available for streaming, celebrates the life of Richard Montañez and his journey from being a janitor to ascending to the marketing C-suite at PepsiCo. Director Eva Longoria, a staunch supporter of Montañez, has expressed her commitment to telling Richard's story. She believes that his story is both complex and motivating, centered around his personal growth and achievements.

Montañez's story has led him to become a well-known figure, as he has capitalized on his success by engaging in public speaking events and authoring books about his journey. He is an example of the American dream, a testament to the idea that with hard work, determination, and innovation, anyone can achieve success.

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A post shared by Richard Montanez (@hotcheetosrpm)


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The realistic picture

Montañez claims that he rose through the ranks at Frito-Lay by personally presenting his idea and recipe for Flamin' Hot Cheetos to PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico in 1991, ultimately leading to the creation of this iconic snack. The problem is, this narrative seems to be at odds with the facts.

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In 2021, The Los Angeles Times conducted an investigation into the origins of Flamin' Hot Cheetos and found some discrepancies in Montañez's account. According to their report, Roger Enrico didn't join Frito-Lay until six months after Flamin' Hot Cheetos had already been introduced to the market. Frito-Lay also provided a statement disputing Montañez's claims, stating that the Flamin' Hot seasoning had been developed by McCormick, Frito-Lay's seasoning supplier, and sent to the company in December 1989, long before Montañez's alleged involvement.

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Furthermore, the Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that the Flamin' Hot Cheetos brand name and flavor concept were initially developed by Lynne Greenfeld, now known as Lynne Lemmel, in 1989. Lemmel's creation was intended to compete with other chili-spiced snacks from rival brands. It is worth noting that Montañez did contribute ideas for other snacks, including Sobresitas, but he was not the originator of the Flamin' Hot concept.

In response to the revelations from the Los Angeles Times, Lynne Lemmel expressed her disappointment at seeing someone else claim her work as their own.

What was Montanez's response?

In a now-deleted Instagram video, Montañez addressed the controversy, advising aspiring leaders to document their own histories before someone else attempts to co-opt their stories. He also emphasized the importance of safeguarding one's reputation and legacy. Nevertheless, Montañez continues to promote his connection to Flamin' Hot Cheetos, even making it a central aspect of his social media presence.

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Regarding the accuracy of the movie "Flamin' Hot," it is essential to understand that the film aligns with Montañez's personal narrative, which may not necessarily reflect the actual history of Flamin' Hot Cheetos. In June 2023, Frito-Lay released a statement to USA Today acknowledging that the movie is "Montañez's story, told from his point of view." They emphasized his contributions to Frito-Lay and the impact of his insights on better serving Hispanic consumers and engaging the Hispanic community, a legacy that PepsiCo continues to honor.


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