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Latin community defends Richard Montañez after claims that he didn’t invent Hot Cheetos

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Richard Montañez, 62, joined Frito Lay as a janitor in 1976, and later became Vice-president of multicultural sales and community promotions of PepsiCo, the company that owns Frito Lay. For decades he has been recognized as the inventor of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and for his life story of succeeding against adversities as a Latino in the US, he became a motivational speaker and best-selling author. 

But the Los Angeles Times published a story last week in which Frito Lay cast doubt that Montanez was the actual creator of the famous chips. The company said “none of their records show” that he was involved in the creation of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. 

The Times interviewed more than a dozen former employees from Frito Lay that worked by the time the chips were invented and concluded “Montañez didn’t invent Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.”

“We have interviewed multiple personnel who were involved in the test market, and all of them indicate that he was not involved in any capacity… The facts do not support the urban legend,” the company said to the LA Times. The article reports that a junior employee at Frito-Lay’s corporate office in Texas, named Lynne Greenfeld,  was assigned to develop the Flamin’ Hot brand in 1989. 

The publication caused fury among the Latin community that jumped in Montañez’s defense. Some even claimed that the LA Times article was an attack on the achievements of the Spanish/speaking communities in the US, and an effort to undermine the accomplishments of Montañez. 

 

After the article was published and the public reactions emerged, PepsiCo released a statement praising Montañez contributions to the companies. 

“Far from being an urban legend, Richard had a remarkable 40-plus-year career at PepsiCo and made an incredible impact on our business and employees and continues to serve as an inspiration today. His insights and ideas on how to better serve Hispanic consumers were invaluable and directly resulted in the success of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. To be clear, we have no reason to doubt the stories he shares about taking the initiative to create new product ideas for the Cheetos brand and pitching them to past PepsiCo leaders,” reads the statement. 

The document also said the information both companies shared with the media was “misconstrued by some, which resulted in confusion around where we stand.” 

On his end, Montañez spoke with Variety saying he was disappointed that Frito Lay publicly doubted his story. “I was their greatest ambassador,” he stated. He also told the magazine he had not heard of Greenfeld until now and noted that they worked for different divisions of the company. 

“In that era, Frito-Lay had five divisions,” Montañez says. “I don’t know what the other parts of the country, the other divisions — I don’t know what they were doing. I’m not even going to try to dispute that lady, because I don’t know. All I can tell you is what I did. All I have is my history, what I did in my kitchen.”

A biopic based on his life 

A biopic movie to be directed by Eva Longoria and produced by Christian super-producer DeVon Franklin for Searchlight Pictures, is set to begin filming this summer. 

Lewis Colick, the screenwriter of the film, argued that Richard Montañez still has an inspiring story to tell of rising through the corporate ranks at Frito-Lay. 

Colick noted that Frito-Lay had cooperated in the production, giving him and Franklin a tour of the Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., facility where Montañez worked. “They laid out the red carpet for us,” he said to NBC. “There was no talk of, ‘You guys are writing a movie about a guy who had nothing to do with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.’”

Nonetheless, the Times reported that Frito-Lay alerted the producers to problems with Montañez’s story in 2019, but Colick said he never heard about that. He noted that Frito-Lay executive Al Carey had vouched for Montañez, and that Carey had said that without him the product would not exist. 

At the moment, the biopic movie is still scheduled to begin filming this year.

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