Back in 2017, we profiled Richard Montañez, a former janitor at Frito-Lay who claimed to have invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
We weren’t the first, nor only, outlet to cover his story.
Over nearly a decade, Montañez’s rags-to-riches tale has been widely published by NPR, The Washington Post, and many other papers. It’s even being made into a Hollywood biopic directed by Eva Longoria.
But now, new information has come to light
An investigation by The Los Angeles Times claims that Montañez may have fabricated his involvement with the creation of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
There are a lot of contradicting details here. For years, Frito-Lay appeared to endorse Montañez’s claims. The former CEOs of both PepsiCo and Frito-Lay praised his autobiography, and the company recently verified his contributions to a Planet Money reporter.
Now, the company alleges that Montañez was “not involved in any capacity” in the invention of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and that the snack’s development was a group effort led by MBAs and corporate marketers.
Elements of Montañez’s story appear to be true. He did in fact rise up the ranks from factory worker to executive at Frito-Lay. He also contributed to the success of many spicy snacks — just not Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, says the company.
Montañez is denying this claim
“There’s always someone in the room who’s going to try to steal your destiny,” he said in a video posted to his Instagram on Sunday. “They may even say you never existed.”
We’ll continue to update the story as more information comes in.