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.”
Philadelphia Will Pay $2M to Black Woman Beaten by Officers Whose Child Was Used in a Pro-Police Social Media Post
The post from the National Fraternal Order of Police claimed officers found the toddler “lost” and “barefoot,” but the mother’s lawyers said police ripped the child from her vehicle during an unjust stop and caused him to lose his hearing aids.
$2 Million Settlement
The city of Philadelphia has agreed to pay a $2 million settlement to 29-year-old Rickia Young, a Black woman who was pulled from her car and beaten by police officers last year while trying to navigate through protests spurred by the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr.
Along with the settlement, both an officer and a sergeant have been fired in connection to their treatment of Young that night. Another 14 members of the Philadelphia Police Department are awaiting disciplinary hearings that stem from an internal investigation into the incident.
The terminations and investigations have not satisfied Kevin Mincey, one of Young’s attorneys. He’s currently calling on District Attorney Lawrence Krasner to file criminal charges against those officers, saying, “If any citizen did something like this, there would be no question they will be charged with aggravated assault as a felony.”
As of Thursday morning, Kranser has not said whether he plans to pursue such charges.
Police Beating of Rickia Young
On Oct. 27, 2020, Young said she drove into West Philly to pick up her 16-year-old nephew because he lived near the epicenter of the protests that were happening that night.
On her way back home, she reportedly came across a group of protesters blocking the street while engaging in a standoff with police. The police allegedly ordered her to turn her car around, and according to her attorneys, she complied but paused at one point to avoid hitting protesters running past her car.
From there, Young’s attorneys claimed police surrounded her vehicle. They then allegedly broke her windows with batons before pulling her and her nephew out of the vehicle. According to multiple outlets, the officers began beating her, leaving her with swelling on her face and body, as well as a swollen trachea. A video of this incident later went viral online.
For hours, Young was separated from her toddler, who was removed from the car by police and lost his hearing aids at some point during the night, according to her attorneys. Even after getting her son back, for days, she was without her car.
Ultimately, neither young nor her nephew were cited.
Pro-Police Post Involving Young’s Son
Two days after the incident, the National Fraternal Order of Police, the country’s largest police labor union, posted an image to Facebook showing an officer holding a young, Black child.
“This child was lost during the violent riots in Philadelphia, wandering around barefoot in an area that was experiencing complete lawlessness,” The caption read. “The only thing this Philadelphia Police Officer cared about in that moment was protecting this child.”
“We are not your enemy. We are the Thin Blue Line. And WE ARE the only thing standing between Order and Anarchy.”
While claiming that she had been abused by police, Young would also go on to claim the “lost” child in the photo was that of her son.
“They’re attempting to erase what happened — police brutality — and turn it instead into police saviorism,” Riley Ross, one of Young’s attorneys said. “It’s another deep wound that they cut.”
After being informed of the background behind the photo, the National Fraternal Order of Police deleted the post with Young’s child.
Still, as Philly council member Isaiah Thomas asked in February, “Who knows how many people there are who’ve seen that original image, but never actually understood that parent was not involved in some type of looting situation as it was displayed unfortunately on social media?”
See what others are saying: (Philadelphia Inquirer) (USA Today) (ABC News)
TikTok Works To Block “Devious Lick” Trend That Has Kids Stealing School Equipment
Some schools have even threatened to pursue charges against those stealing or destroying school property.
What Is a Devious Lick?
TikTok is taking action against a new trend on the platform that involves users showing off what they consider impressive thefts they’ve pulled off, often at their own schools.
Users on the app refer to these thefts as “devious licks,” and some standout examples include kids stealing school projectors, street signs, microscopes, fire alarms, and pretty much anything you can imagine.
A lot of students also seem to particularly enjoy targeting school bathrooms, stealing paper towels or soap dispensers and even entire toilets or sinks, sometimes leaving bathrooms totally unusable.
School officials across the country are obviously unhappy with this trend since it’s leaving their schools destroyed and low on equipment that is expensive to repair or replace.
In fact, many have issued warnings calling for the behavior to stop. Along with threats of suspension, some schools have said they will make families pay for the cost of the damage their child creates. Others even said they would get law enforcement involved.
For instance, Aubrey Chancellor, executive director of communications at North East Independent School District in San Antonio Texas, told Fox News, “It’s important for students to understand what they see on social media is not always a good idea in reality.”
“The students involved face disciplinary action and are expected to pay restitution as well. If possible, charges may be filed as well.”
With the trend generating widespread concerns, TikTok issued a statement Wednesday saying, “We are removing this content and redirecting hashtags and search results to our Community Guidelines to discourage such behavior.”
See what others are saying: (NBC News)(Desert News)(Gizmodo)
Walgreens Is Openly Exposing the Data of Millions Who Registered for COVID Tests, Vox Claims
Vox said the issues stem at least as far back as July 2020 but could potentially trace back to April 2020. Anyone signing up for a test with the pharmacy as of Wednesday will be similarly exposed.
Test Data Exposed
Vox’s Recode published an alarming report Monday that accuses Walgreens of exposing and failing to protect the personal data of millions who signed up for COVID-19 tests through its “sloppy” registration system.
That exposed data reportedly includes people’s name, birthday, gender identity, phone number, address, email information, and in some cases, even their test results. All of this “was left on the open web for potentially anyone to see and for the multiple ad trackers on Walgreens’ site to collect,” Recode reporter Sara Morrison said in the article, published Monday.
According to Morrison, the exposed data potentially stretches as far back as April 2020, which is when Walgreens first began offering COVID-19 tests, but it definitively traces back at least to July 2020 given Recode’s findings.
The Issue Involves Test Confirmation Links
Security experts cited by Morrison said the vulnerabilities are basic issues that Walgreens, one of the largest pharmacy chains in the country, should have known how to prevent.
Essentially, anyone with a link to an appointment confirmation can view the full confirmation. There’s no need to log in or authenticate your identity any other way.
To make the situation even easier for bad actors, the links used to confirm appointments are exactly the same minus a unique patient ID contained in what’s called a “query string.” With millions of tests confirmed, it’s not hard for a hacker or a bot to start finding active pages, though a Morrison noted, it would be “close to impossible” to find a specific person through this method.
Still, it’s not totally impossible to find a specific person. If a patient views their confirmation link on a shared computer, such as one at work or a public library, anyone with the ability to check that computer’s browser history can click on the link and reap the person’s information.
“Security by obscurity is an awful model for health records,” Sean O’Brien, founder of Yale’s Privacy Lab, told Recode.
Walgreens Has Not Fixed the Issue
Even after one tech consultant discovered the issue in March and pointed it out to Walgreens multiple times, the company seemingly did nothing, according to Morrison.
From there, Recode said it informed Walgreens of the findings again and even gave it “time to fix the vulnerabilities before publishing” its piece, but once again, the company failed to do anything.
As of right now, anyone scheduling a COVID test with Walgreens appears to be at the same level of risk as those who previously registered. Not only is that a concerning privacy issue, but it could also discourage many from getting tested.
In statements to several outlets, Walgreens has not directly addressed the security concerns. For example, it only told Fox Business that it “routinely evaluate[s] our technology solutions in order to provide safe, secure, and accessible digital services to our customers and patients.”
For those seeking COVID tests and potentially discouraged by this news, it is important to remember that Walgreens isn’t the only pharmacy chain offering free tests. Cities and counties across the country are also continuing to offer free testing sites amid a spike in cases caused by the Delta variant.