Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

With a biopic on the way, Frito-Lay now disputes Flamin' Hot Cheetos origin story

Cheetos spokesperson Chester Cheetah
Cheetos spokesperson Chester Cheetah
Photo: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Cheetos

Earlier this month, Jesse Garcia and Annie Gonzalez were cast in Eva Longoria’s biopic about Richard Montañez, a former janitor at Frito-Lay who has made a name for himself by traveling around and telling the story of how he invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and ascended the ranks of the company to become its executive vice president of multicultural sales and community activation. It is, by all accounts, a great story, full of stuff that makes you feel good about humanity and how people can accomplish anything if they work hard enough. According to a new piece by The L.A. Times, though, a great story is all it is… because it’s apparently not actually true.

Advertisement

Montañez was a janitor at a Frito-Lay plant who was promoted up through the company and “pitched new product initiatives” that “may have changed the path of his career,” but The L.A. Times says there’s no record of him being involved in the creation of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos at all and people who were at the company at the time flat-out deny that he had any hand in the creation of the snacks. The story says Montañez first started mentioning that he had invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in the late 2000s, “nearly two decades after they were invented,” when he would give speeches for “local business and philanthropy award ceremonies.” Then, when the general media heard his story, it gave him more of a spotlight and more opportunities to tell the story of the janitor who was inspired by Mexican elotes to create a game-changing snack.

Frito-Lay, meanwhile, did nothing to stop him. In fact, it didn’t seem to notice or care that he was taking credit until actual inventor Lynne Greenfeld reached out to the company to ask what was going on. Frito-Lay launched an investigation and determined that Montañez definitely did not invent Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Former CEO Al Carey disputes this somewhat, saying that the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos we know today would not have happened with Montañez, even if he was just a “charismatic leader” that helped push the team into making it a hit. The L.A. Times goes into what seems to be the actual story, which is significantly less heartwarming than Montañez’s version (company sees market for thing, company tells people to make thing, thing is successful), but the interesting part for our purposes is this little aside in the piece: “The producers of [Montañez’s] biopic, despite being informed of problems by Frito-Lay in 2019, announced a cast for the movie in early May.”

So the producers knew the story wasn’t true and they’re moving forward with the project anyway (though it’s unclear if that includes Longoria). That’s both surprising and totally not surprising at all (Hollywood being Hollywood), but it is an interesting wrinkle that will surely have some impact on what happens with the movie—depending on how widespread this story gets. The L.A. Times piece says the producers of the film and the publisher behind Montañez’s new memoir could not be reached for comment.