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LA Times Report Claims the Inspirational Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Origin Story Isn’t True. Now, Many Are Upset, Confused, and Outraged

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Richard Montañez has claimed for years that he went from a California janitor to a business executive after inventing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, but now, Frito-Lay is poking holes in that story by crediting the snack’s invention to a female employee in Texas.


Flamin’ Hots Origin Story: An Urban Legend?

For years, audiences have been captivated by the story of how one California janitor rose through the ranks of Frito-Lay by successfully pitching an idea that would later become Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

“This guy… has become a folk legend in the Latino community, especially with Mexicans,” Los Angeles Times columnist Gustavo Arellano told NPR Thursday. 

But now, another LA Times writer claims that story is mostly just urban legend. 

Here’s how the tale goes: In the 1980s, Richard Montañez was working as a janitor at a Frito-Lay factory in Rancho Cucamonga, California. One day, when a Cheetos assembly line machine broke down and failed to coat the puffs with their iconic orange powder, Montañez took some home and began experimenting with different seasonings.

Using chili powder, an idea Montañez has said was inspired by food that a street vendor in his neighborhood made, Montañez created a spicy twist on the cheesy snack. 

Montañez took that idea directly to then-Frito-Lay CEO Roger Enrico, who according to Montañez, had sent out a video “telling all employees he wanted them to take ownership of the company.”

“I called him up, not knowing you weren’t supposed to call the CEO,” Montañez has claimed in the past.

An interested Enrico then gave Montañez two weeks to prepare a presentation for the company’s executives, who were blown away by Montañez’s product design and his pitch that the puffs could sell well in a growing Latino market. While some tried to sabotage his idea from ever succeeding, Montañez’s ingenuity eventually led to Flamin’ Hot Cheetos being introduced to the world, and to this day, they’re still popular. 

Meanwhile, Montañez was finally able to ditch his job as a janitor, and he quickly worked his way up the predominantly-white corporate ladder to become an executive at Frito-Lay’s parent company, PepsiCo.

Montañez’s underdog story has even inspired an upcoming biopic set to be directed by Eva Longoria.

Frito-Lay Says Flamin’ Hots Were Created by a Female Professional

While Montañez has told this “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” story for years and really is an executive at PepsiCo., the validity of much of the tale is now in question.

The LA Times article, written by reporter Sam Dean and published on Sunday, cites “more than a dozen former Frito-Lay employees” who claim that Montañez never actually invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

In fact, in a statement to the LA Times, a Frito-Lay spokesperson wrote, “None of our records show that Richard was involved in any capacity in the Flamin’ Hot test market. We have interviewed multiple personnel who were involved in the test market, and all of them indicate that Richard was not involved in any capacity in the test market.”

“That doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate Richard,” the spokesperson added, “but the facts do not support the urban legend.”

The company now claims that Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were developed by a group of professionals in Plano, Texas, as a way to compete with other spicy snacks sold at mini-marts in cities like Chicago and Detroit.

It even credited a different person for the work of creating Flamin’ Hots: a woman by the name of Lynne Greenfield, who over the period of several months, went on multiple tours in those cities after being handed the assignment.

“She worked with Frito-Lay’s packaging and product design teams to come up with the right flavor mix and branding for the bags,” Dean wrote.

All of that allegedly happened before 1991, when Enrico first started at Frito-Lay. By then, Flamin’ Hots had already been on shelves in four different test markets for six months. That said, Patti Rueff, Enrico’s personal assistant at the time, did confirm to Dean that she “vividly” remembers Montañez calling to speak with Enrico, but given this timeline, that call must have occurred after Flamin’ Hots were already out. 

Dean also notes that Montañez didn’t begin taking credit for the inventing Flamin’ Hots until the late 2000’s, nearly two decades after they were put on the market. 

“And nobody at Frito-Lay stopped him,” Dean wrote in his article. “Most of the original Flamin’ Hot team had retired by the 2000s, but the few who remained let the story spread unchecked.”

That was until Greenfield got involved in 2018 by contacting Frito-Lay after seeing that Montañez had been taking credit for inventing the snack. That then spurred an internal investigation, and in 2019, Frito-Lay even reportedly reached out to producers of the Longoria-backed movie to inform them of the issue. 

Montañez Backs His Account

In an interview with Variety, Montañez defended his story. 

“I was their greatest ambassador,” he said. “But I will say this, you’re going to love your company more than they will ever love you, keep that in perspective.”

“In that era, Frito-Lay had five divisions. 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.”

Montañez added that he believes his story was never documented because of his status as a janitor at the time.

A May 12 interview between Montañez and NPR suggests that the two differing accounts could both have some truth behind them.

“[Frito-Lay doesn’t] actually have a real record of how exactly Hot Cheetos came to be,” reporter Sarah Gonzalez said. “They do say that teams of people are involved in creating a new flavor so that they wouldn’t credit any one person. And they do have a record of a hot Cheeto on the market in the Midwest around the exact same time that Hot Cheeto samples were coming out of Richard’s plant. So they say maybe these two stories together led to the Hot Cheeto we see today.”

Anger and Confusion

Dean’s story has ignited a full mix of reactions.

Lewis Colick, the screenwriter of the upcoming movie about Montañez, has told NBC News, “I think enough of the story is true. The heart and soul and spirit of the story is true. He is a guy who should remain the face of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.”

Further, Colick called Dean’s story “a hit job on a really fine upstanding individual who’s an inspiration to the Latino community for justifiable reasons.” 

“Did Richard embellish a little bit? Was his memory faulty here or there? Who knows,” he added. “The truth is the product.”

In a letter to the editor published Friday by the LA Times, one person wrote, “Basically, The Times set out to investigate a hero in the Latino community who had no known record of causing any trouble or harm. The company where Montañez rose from entry-level employee to executive, Frito-Lay, had never spoken out against him.”

“I grew up here, and I distinctly remember the Montañez story because one of my good friends, a delivery driver for Frito-Lay at the time, told it to me. This was in 1996. Latinos tend not to document things. In a country that has taken so much from us, we have learned to preserve our history the way our culture has done for centuries — through our anecdotes and stories.”

As many have noted, the story and its reporting have an even deeper layer of complexity given that Dean is white. 

In fact, LA Times columnist Gustavo Arellano, who was quoted through his NPR interview at the beginning of this piece, wrote earlier this week, “There are too few Mexican Americans recognized for inventing things beloved by almost everyone.”

“After all, we’re still outsiders in the United States despite our numbers, our centuries of living here. And now you have a white reporter named Sam Dean telling us that a Mexican had fibbed about creating a product popular with so many? I’d be mad, too.”

“But then reality grounds me. See, Mexicans can stretch the truth to fit a convenient narrative as well as gringos when it comes to our food, folks.”

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (NPR) (Variety)

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Instagram Testing New Tools To Verify Users Are Over 18

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The new tools include AI software that analyzes video footage of a person’s face to verify their age.


Instagram Cracks Down on Underage Users

Instagram is testing new features in the United States to verify the age of users who claim to be over 18 years old. 

According to a statement from Instagram’s parent company, Meta, the tools will only apply to users who seek to change their age from under 18 to over 18. The platform previously asked for users to upload their ID for verification in this process, but on Thursday, it announced there will be two new methods for confirming age. 

One of the strategies was referred to as “social vouching.” Using this option, people can request that three mutual Instagram followers over the age of 18 confirm their age on the platform.

The other method allows users to upload a video selfie of themselves to be analyzed by Yoti, third-party age verification software. Yoti then estimates a person’s age based on their facial features, sends that estimate to Meta, and both companies delete the recording. 

According to Meta, Yoti cannot recognize or identify a face based on the recording and only looks at the pixels to determine an age. Meta said that Yoti “is the leading age verification provider for several industries around the world,” as it has been used and promoted by social media companies and governmental organizations. 

Still, some question how effective it will be for this specific use. According to The Verge, while the software does have a high accuracy rate among certain age groups and demographics, data also shows it is less precise for female faces and faces with darker skin tones. 

Issues With Kids on Instagram

Meta argues that it is important for Instagram to be able to discern who is and is not 18, as it impacts what version of the app users have access to.

“We’re testing this so we can make sure teens and adults are in the right experience for their age group,” the company’s statement said. 

“When we know if someone is a teen (13-17), we provide them with age-appropriate experiences like defaulting them into private accounts, preventing unwanted contact from adults they don’t know and limiting the options advertisers have to reach them with ads,” it continued. 

These changes come as Instagram has been facing increased pressure to address the way its app impacts younger users. 

Only children 13 and older are allowed to have Instagram accounts, but the service has faced criticism for not doing enough to enforce this. A 2021 survey of high school students found that nearly half of the respondents had created a social media account of some kind before they were 13.

The company also recently came under fire after The Wall Street Journal published internal Meta documents revealing that the company knew that it harmed teens, including by worsening body image issues for young girls and women.

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (The Wall Street Journal) (Axios)

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Elon Musk Threatens to Fire Employees Unless They Work in Person Full-Time

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The world’s richest man in the world previously suggested that the popularity of remote work has “tricked people into thinking that you don’t actually need to work hard.”


“If You Don’t Show up, We Will Assume You Have Resigned”

On Wednesday, Electrek published two leaked emails apparently sent from Elon Musk to Tesla’s executive staff threatening to fire them if they don’t return to work in person.

“Anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla,” he wrote. “This is less than we ask of factory workers.”

“If there are particularly exceptional contributors for whom this is impossible, I will review and approve those exceptions directly,” he continued.

Musk then clarified that the “office” must be a main office, not a “remote branch office unrelated to the job duties.”

“There are of course companies that don’t require this, but when was the last time they shipped a great new product? It’s been a while,” he wrote in the second email.

Later on Wednesday, a Twitter user asked Musk to comment on the idea that coming into work is an antiquated concept.

He replied, “They should pretend to work somewhere else.”

The Billionaire Pushes People to Work Harder

Musk has a history of pressuring his employees and criticizing them for not working hard enough.

“All the Covid stay-at-home stuff has tricked people into thinking that you don’t actually need to work hard. Rude awakening inbound,” he tweeted last month.

Three economists told Insider that remote work during the pandemic did not damage productivity.

“Most of the evidence shows that productivity has increased while people stayed at home,” Natacha Postel-Vinay, an economic and financial historian at the London School of Economics, told the outlet.

Musk is notorious for criticizing lockdown mandates and went so far as to call them “fascist” during a Tesla earnings call in April 2020.

Not long before that, Tesla announced that it would keep its Fremont, California plant open in defiance of shelter-in-place orders across the state.

In an interview with The Financial Times last month, Musk blasted American workers for trying to stay home, comparing them to their Chinese counterparts whom he said work harder.

“They won’t just be burning the midnight oil. They will be burning the 3 a.m. oil,” he said. “They won’t even leave the factory type of thing, whereas in America people are trying to avoid going to work at all.”

That same day, Fortune published an article detailing how Tesla workers in Shanghai work 12-hour shifts, six days out of the week, sometimes sleeping on the factory floor.

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (Electrek) (Business Insider)

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Apple Raises Worker Pay as Unions Gain Ground

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The company’s vice president of people and retail was caught trying to dissuade employees from unionizing in a leaked video.


Labor Squeezes Apple into Submission

Apple announced Wednesday that its U.S. corporate and retail employees will see a pay increase later this year, with starting wages bumped from $20 per hour to $22, though stores in certain regions may get more depending on market conditions.

Starting salaries are also expected to increase.

“Supporting and retaining the best team members in the world enables us to deliver the best, most innovative, products and services for our customers,” an Apple spokesman said in a statement. “This year as part of our annual performance review process, we’re increasing our overall compensation budget.”

Some workers were told their annual reviews would be moved up three months and that their pay increases would take effect in early July, according to a memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Furthermore, they were told the increased compensation budget would be in addition to pay increases and special awards already received within the past year.

Feeling squeezed by low unemployment and high inflation, tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have changed their compensation structures in recent weeks to pay workers more, and Apple is the latest to bend to market pressure.

Unions Gaining Traction

On Wednesday, The Verge received a leaked video of Apple’s vice president of people and retail, Deirdre O’Brien, explicitly dissuading employees from unionizing.

“I worry about what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship,” she said. “An organization that does not have a deep understanding of Apple or our business. And most importantly one that I do not believe shares our commitment to you.”

She vocalized more anti-union talking points, like the idea that the company will not be able to make important decisions as quickly with a collective bargaining agreement.

O’Brien has been personally visiting retail stores over the past few weeks in an apparent bid to combat budding union activity.

Apple stores in three locations — New York, Georgia, and Maryland — are currently pushing to unionize, with the latter two set to vote in elections on June 2 and 15, respectively. In response to these efforts, Apple has hired anti-union lawyers, given managers anti-union scripts, and held anti-union captive audience meetings.

In the United States, unionized workers make about 13.2% more than non-unionized workers in the same sector, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

As of Wednesday, Apple’s shares had fallen 21% since the start of the year, but sales grew 34% last year to almost $300 billion.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (CNBC) (The Verge)

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