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The mystery of who created the Flamin 'Hot Cheetos. A company or a Chicano?

For years the story has been told of how Richard Montañez created fry when he was a janitor at a Frito-Lay factory. But an LA Times report raised doubts about it.

This article was translated from our Spanish edition. Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Who was the true creator of the Flamin 'Hot Cheetos ? The origin of this popular fry became a topic of discussion this year.

Richard Montañez vía Instagram

The story that had endured since the early 2000s - and has inspired entrepreneurs of all ages - has all the makings of a Hollywood-worthy story of self-improvement. It said that Richard Montañez , the son of Mexican migrants in California, invented the Cheetos variant when inspired by Mexican corn while working as a janitor in a Frito-Lay factory and that this creation led him to become vice president of multicultural sales. and promotions of the PepsiCo-owned company until 2019 when he left the company.

In his autobiography titled "A Boy, a Burrito and a Cookie" ( "A child, a burrito and a biscuit"), Montañez that is inspired to see the preparation of a seller of corn Mexican style (with chili powder) it was near his house. One day when the Cheetos gang broke down, he decided to take a bag that was not yet ready to experiment with frying. The first to try his new creation were his colleagues, who really enjoyed the snack. After good reviews, the book tells that Montañez decided to present his idea to Roger Enrico, the president of the company and that is how the Flamin 'Hot Cheetos were created.

Richard began giving motivational talks about success and how to achieve it. In addition to his autobiography, this summer another book went on sale ( Flamin 'Hot ) that talks about how Montañez went from being a janitor to an executive and in 2019 the production of a film about history was announced, which would be directed by Eva Longoria .

What the LA Times Said

In May 2021, Montañez's story was clouded by an LA Times report called The Man Who Didn't Invents Flamin 'Hot Cheetos, which points out that there is no evidence that Mexican-Americans were the sole inventor of spicy Cheetos.

Based on several interviews with employees who worked at the same time as Montañez and the archives of the same company, the Los Angeles newspaper pointed out that there is no proof that the Flamin 'Hot Cheetos were his invention. According to his report, the product was created in 1989 in Texas and was designed to compete with spicy snacks sold in the city. The one who actually ran the entire line of Flamin Hot products, according to an LA Time quote from a Frito-Lay spokesperson, was Lynne Greenfeld, a junior employee at the time.

The LA Times reported that the snack company asserted that they valued Richard's numerous contributions to the company, "especially his knowledge of Hispanic consumers, but we do not credit him with the creation of Flamin 'Hot Cheetos or any Flamin' Hot product."

Six people confirmed this story, but according to the Californian newspaper , the only employee who supported Richard's version was Al Carey , another executive who was present at Montañez's development, but says he does not remember that Enrico, president of the company , was present at that product presentation meeting.

By the count, it was until 2018 that Lynne Greenfeld spoke with and the company began a serious investigation into the origin of the cheese snacks. They found no evidence that Montañez had invented the product or that such a meeting with Enrico had happened.

However, Montañez answered the report through an interview with Variety where he confirmed his version of events and reaffirmed that he came up with the idea during one of the "method improvement programs" that the company had to search for new ideas for products. .

"I was his greatest ambassador," Montañez told Variety . “But I'll tell you one thing: You come to love a company more than they love you. Keep that in mind.

Montañez claimed that he does not know Greenfeld, but remembers testing Cheetos seasoning in his garage. However, he said he was "kicked out" from product testing in the market.

And what then PepsiCo said

A few days after the initial LA Times report , PepsiCo, the parent company of which Frito-Lay is part, came out to defend Montañez through a statement (here reproduced by Variety ) before various media. In it, he says that es Montañez was invaluable to the company and to the Flamin 'Hot Cheetos product, although he did not confirm as such if the Mexican American was the sole creator of the fritters.

“There's been a lot of talk lately about the origin of Flamin 'Hot Cheetos. The information we gave to the media has been misinterpreted by some, leading to confusion about our position, ”the company said.

Frito-Lay noted that his previous statements had unleashed "a variety of emotions among our employees and consumers, and caused tension in our valued friendship with Richard Montañez and the Latino community" (as reported by the Latin Heat site) . PepsiCo praised Montañez for his more than 40-year career with the brand, saying that his contribution to the company in understanding Hispanics had been "invaluable."

The multinational remarked that “they have no reason to doubt” Montañez's version of how he contributed ideas for new products for the Cheetos brand, but he did emphasize that, at the time of the creation of the Flamin 'Hot, there was another team that was not related to Montañez who was developing other spicy versions of the cheese snack.

“Occasionally it happened that there were several workflows on the same product without interacting, when the divisions were working independently of each other and were not the best at communicating. However, because we cannot draw a clear link between them does not mean that we do not value all their contributions and ingenuity, including those of Richard, ”the company said.

Longoria retweeted PepsiCo's statement about Montañez and the film, which will be produced by Searchlight Pictures, appears to be still in development and already has a cast.

What do you think is the reason for the confusion? Do you believe in the story of Montañez?