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.”
Initial Unemployment Claims See First Rise Since April as Fed Estimates Faster Inflation Growth Than Previously Predicted
The Fed also announced that it expects to raise interest rates in 2023, a year earlier than its previous prediction.
Unemployment Claims Rise
The Labor Department reported Thursday that, for the first time in nearly two months, weekly initial unemployment claims increased.
For the week ending on June 12, 412,000 people filed first-time claims. That’s an increase of 37,000 from the previous week’s estimate of 375,000. It’s also the highest that new claims have been in a month.
Still, there are positive signs that the labor market is improving. For example, while last week’s continuing claims were largely unchanged from the previous week, the four-week moving average for continuing claims fell to its lowest level since March 2020.
The Federal Reserve is also optimistic about the labor market eventually returning to form despite the country still being short 7 million jobs. Following a two-day meeting, the central bank predicted that the unemployment rate could fall back to pre-pandemic levels by 2023.
It also expects economic growth to hit 7% this year, up from the 6.5% it predicted in March.
Inflation Will Grow Faster Than Expected
At its meeting, the Fed said it now believes inflation will climb higher than it had previously estimated just three months ago. In March, it predicted inflation would rise about 2.4% this year. As of Wednesday, it’s expecting a 3.4% jump.
That comes on the heels of a report from the Labor Department last week that indicated consumer prices climbed at their fastest rate since 2008 year-over-year in May. Like economists explained then, the Fed said it expects this rise in consumer prices to be temporary.
While the Fed expects the prices for some goods and services to continue to increase over the next few months because of issues such as supply bottlenecks, it also said it believes the labor market will continue to grow since the economy is finally coming out of its massive, pandemic-induced downturn in spending.
Still, as Fed Chair Jerome Powell warned Wednesday, “Shifts in demand can be large and rapid. Inflation could turn out to be higher and more persistent than we expect.”
Powell added that the central bank will keep a close eye on inflation and that it would respond quickly if inflation becomes broader or more persistent than current estimates.
Interest Rates Stay at Historic Lows… For Now
Among other key points from the Fed’s meeting was its decision to move up a projection for an initial interest rate hike from 2024 to 2023. Notably, it also said there could be two rate hikes in 2023.
That then caused some major stock indices like the Dow Jones to initially stumble, though the markets were more mixed Thursday. That’s likely at least partially because the Fed kept internet rates near a historically low zero for the time being, as expected.
Some Republican lawmakers, such as Sen. Rick Scott (Fl.), have argued that the 2023 projection is too slow, saying interest rates need to go up sooner to prevent inflation from rising too much.
In testimony before a Senate committee on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the inflation situation is being monitored “very, very carefully” and that while prices are rising, they’re also moving back toward “normal” levels.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNBC) (ABC News)
Coca-Cola Lost $4 Billion in Market Value After Cristiano Ronaldo Hid Two Bottles During a Press Conference
After the snub by Ronaldo, another soccer player hid a bottle of Heineken during a separate press conference Wednesday.
Ronaldo Pushes Away Coke Bottles
Coca-Cola’s market value fell by $4 billion after famed soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo moved two bottles of the soda off-camera during a press conference Monday.
The incident happened just before his team’s match against Hungary at the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship. After hiding the Coke bottles, Ronaldo held up an unlabeled water bottle and said “Agua,” which is Portuguese for water.
The whole moment was likely very awkward for Coke as a company considering that it’s sponsoring the tournament; however, the situation was made tangibly worse for Coke when investors reacted by selling-off stock. That move caused its market value to fall from $242 billion to $238 billion.
Alongside that $4 billion loss, its individual share value fell 1.6%, which isn’t huge but is somewhat more notable given the fact that it was seemingly caused by one person in one moment. Ronaldo doesn’t exactly have the same level of stock market influence as that of Elon Musk on the cryptocurrency markets, and on top of that, minus several blips over the last 40 years, Coke’s stock has continued to climb overall.
Still, it’s not a great look to have one of the world’s top athletes at a major sports tournament criticizing your sugary drink. That’s likely why a Coke spokesperson later said, “Everyone is entitled to their drink preferences” and everyone has different “tastes and needs.”
“Players are offered water, alongside Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, on arrival at our press conferences,” the spokesperson added.
In the long run, this isn’t the end of Coke by any means. As Yahoo Finance noted, “It’s unlikely Coke’s stock will stay in the penalty box for too long as the business begins to partake in the global economic recovery.”
Ronaldo’s Healthy Diet
Ronaldo is known for basically being a machine in human form. He reportedly eats up to six very-calculated and clean meals a day and will also nap up to five times a day.
In the past, Ronaldo has indicated that he avoids alcohol and carbonated drinks in order to stay in shape. Earlier this year, he even directly spoke out against Coca-Cola when talking about his 10-year-old son.
“I’m hard with him sometimes because he drinks Coca-Cola and Fanta sometimes and no… And no, I’m pissed with him. And [I fight] with him when he eats chips and fries and everything. You know, I don’t like it.”
Besides his fame on the field, Ronaldo is also the most-followed individual on Instagram, with 299 million followers.
Pogba Seemingly Takes a Note from Ronaldo
It’s possible Ronaldo could have started a trend among athletes of speaking out more against unhealthy drinks, even if they are sponsors of games or tournaments.
In fact, on Wednesday, French player Paul Pogba removed a bottle of Heineken from the camera’s view at the start of a separate press conference.
While it was later learned that the specific Heineken was non-alcoholic, many believe Pogba, who is a devout Muslim, didn’t know that at the time or still didn’t want to promote the brand.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Yahoo Finance) (The Athletic)
Woman From Viral Gorilla Glue Incident Launches Hair Care Line
While some applauded the woman for making use of her newfound attention, others said they would not trust hair products from someone who put superglue in their own hair.
Tessica Brown Launches “Forever Hair”
Tessica Brown, the woman who got Gorilla Glue spray stuck in her hair for more than a month earlier this year, has now launched her own hair care line called “Forever Hair.”
Brown was inspired to create the line after the viral incident, which came to an end when a plastic surgeon removed the adhesive during a four-hour procedure at no cost.
The line includes an $18 growth stimulating oil formulated to help with the hair loss and scalp damage she was left with, as well as a $14 hair spray and a soon-to-be-released $13 product for sleek edge control.
In an Instagram post on Wednesday, Brown raved about how the hair growth oil, in particular, helped her over the last two months.
“I needed this oil to one, heal my scalp. I needed it to grow my hair back. I needed it to stimulated my hair follicles, and on top of that, I needed everything to be all-natural. And in this oil, it has just that,’ she claimed.
Mixed Reactions Online
The move might not come as too much of a surprise given that Brown has likely spent the last few months focusing on her hair’s health.
Still, the reactions on social media have been mixed.
Some have applauded Brown for making use of her viral attention and turning lemons into lemonade.
Meanwhile, others have noted that they are not about to trust a hair product line from someone who put superglue in their own hair. Plus, there is a chuck of people pointing to a typo on her packaging.
It’s spelled “nourishes”… siiiiigh.— Caitlin Dineen (@CaitlinDineen) June 16, 2021