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.”
“Cyberpunk 2077” Developer Agrees To Settle Lawsuit for $1.85M
If approved, CD Projekt Red would pay just a small fraction of the $316 million it reportedly spent developing the game.
CDPR Agrees To Settle
Game developer CD Projekt Red (CDPR) has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit related to its buggy launch of “Cyberpunk 2077” for $1.85 million, The Verge reported Thursday.
The lawsuit itself is actually a conglomeration of four different suits brought by shareholders who alleged that they were misled about the company’s financial performance. Since the game’s release, CD Projekt Red’s share price has fallen 54%.
The settlement must now be approved in court, but overall, it appears to be a small amount compared to the game’s $316 million budget. In fact, the game reportedly made $563 million in sales and only spent around $2.2 million on a refund campaign, though the developer’s overall refund cost for 2020 could have been as much as $51 million.
“Perhaps the plaintiffs didn’t have much of a case?” The Verge writer Sean Hollister speculated on why “it sounds like the lead plaintiffs and their lawyers negotiated for a fairly tiny sum here in exchange for ‘relinquish[ing] any and all claims against the Company and members of its Management Board.’”
“As expressly stated in the Term Sheet, execution of the Term Sheet does not imply admission of any responsibility on the part of the Company or any of the other defendants named in the case,” the negotiated settlement reads.
“Cyberpunk’s” Botched Launch
“Cyberpunk” was first announced in 2012, and for years, it was the subject of widespread fan anticipation. Seven years later, a release date of April 16, 2020, was given; however, that date was pushed back several times much to the ire of fans, some of whom even sent CDPR staff death threats.
The game was ultimately released amid fan pressure on Dec. 10, 2020, but it was so riddled with glitches that Sony infamously pulled “Cyberpunk” from its Playstation Store a week later, offering full refunds to all players who had purchased a digital copy. In June this year, “Cyberpunk” finally made its way back onto the Playstation Store following multiple patches and hotfixes from CDPR.
Despite “Cyberpunk” surpassing a massive 8 million pre-orders before launch, Bloomberg reported last week that “Where analysts had originally expected Cyberpunk sales of 30 million units in the year after the game’s release, they now expect 17.3 million copies to have been sold in that time.”
In October, CDPR delayed planned next-gen updates for both “Cyberpunk” and “The Witcher 3” until the first and second quarters of 2022, respectively.
“Apologies for the extended wait, but we want to make it right,” the developer said.
See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Engadget) (Video Games Chronicle)
E.U. Court Rules That All Member Nations Must Recognize Same-Sex Parents
The decision comes after a child named Sara was left without a country to call home because she had two mothers.
The Child With No Citizenship
The European Court of Justice, the European Union’s highest court, ruled Tuesday that all 27 of its member states must recognize same-sex parents and their children as a family.
The ruling stems from a case involving two women and their newborn daughter, whose status as a family originally varied between member nations. As a result, the couple’s daughter was left without citizenship in any country.
The two women, Bulgarian citizen Kalina Ivanova and Gibraltar-born British citizen Jane Jones, found themselves unable to take their newborn child Sara out of Spain after she was born in the country. Because Spain recognizes same-sex marriage, both Ivanova and Jones were registered as the girl’s legal mothers on her Spanish birth certificate.
However, under Spanish law, Sara was unable to gain citizenship in the country since neither of her parents were Spanish citizens. On top of that, she was denied British citizenship because Jones “was born in Gibraltar of British descent, and under the British Nationality Act (1981), [Jones] cannot transfer citizenship to her daughter,” the LGBTQ+ advocacy group ILGA-Europe said in a press release.
That left the couple with one other option: register Sara as a Bulgarian citizen. Still, the Bulgarian government refused to issue Sara a legally-recognized birth certificate, arguing that she is ineligible to have two mothers. Officially, Bulgaria does not recognize either same-sex marriages or same-sex registered partnerships.
“Currently, the child has no personal documents and cannot leave Spain, the country of the family’s habitual residence,” lLGA-Europe said. “The lack of documents restrict Sara’s access to education, healthcare, and social security in Spain.”
In its Tuesday decision, the European Court of Justice ruled that children in the EU have a legal right to freely move between countries given that such a right is afforded to all EU citizens. Because of this, all countries are now required to uniformly recognize the child’s parents, even if they are of the same sex.
“That refusal could make it more difficult for a Bulgarian identity document to be issued and, therefore, hinder the child’s exercise of the right of free movement and thus full enjoyment of her rights as a Union citizen,” the court said.
Despite some member states like Bulgaria not legally recognizing same-sex couples, the court stressed that its ruling “does not undermine the national identity or pose a threat to the public policy” of those nations.
That’s because while Bulgaria doesn’t have to issue its own birth certificate for Sara, it does have to recognize the Spanish birth certificate and issue its own identity card or passport for Sara.
“We are thrilled about the decision and cannot wait to get Sara her documentation and finally be able to see our families after more than two years,” Sara’s parents said according to the ILGA-Europe release. “It is important for us to be a family, not only in Spain but in any country in Europe and finally it might happen. This is a long-awaited step ahead for us but also a huge step for all LGBT families in Bulgaria and Europe.”
GoFundMe Campaign Raises $8,700 for Waitress Who Was Fired After Not Sharing $4,400 Tip With Co-Workers
The waitress said this was the only time management had ever tried to force her to pool a tip in her three-and-a-half years working at the restaurant.
Waitress Gets Fired After Receiving Massive Tip
An Arkansas waitress has received over $8,700 in donations online after she was fired from her job for refusing to split her half of a $4,400 dollar tip with the rest of the restaurant’s crew.
That waitress, Ryan Brandt, told local Nexstar outlet KNWA last week that she and another server received the tip after waiting on a group of more than 40 people at the Oven & Tap restaurant in Bentonville.
“It was an incredible thing to do and to see her reaction was awesome, to see what that meant to her, the impact that it’s had on her life already,” Grant Wise, who was part of the party Brandt served, told the outlet.
According to KNWA, Wise called the restaurant before his large party arrived and asked about its tipping policy since they intentionally planned to donate $100 each as part of a way to thank restaurant workers. At the time of his call, Wise said he was told the money would go directly to his party’s servers.
“We knew servers were really hit hard through COVID, and it was something that we had come up with to help give back,” Wise told KFSM.
The outcome, however, was much different. After receiving the tip, Brandt and the other server were allegedly told by a manager that they needed to pool the tip with the rest of the workers on duty. Brandt told KNWA she had never once been asked to pool her tips in her three-and-a-half years at the restaurant prior to this.
Complying meant Brant would take home just 20% of her half of the tip.
At some point before leaving, Brandt informed Wise that her tip would be pooled with the rest of the staff. Wise, who had intended the money to only go to his servers, then asked management to return his tip, which he gave to Brandt directly outside the restaurant. The following day, Brandt said she was fired over the phone.
“It was devastating,” Brandt told local outlets. “I borrowed a significant amount for student loans. Most of them were turned off because of the pandemic but they’re turning back on in January and that’s a harsh reality.”
Oven & Tap did not speak on Brandt’s firing in its initial statement. Instead, it only said, “After dining, this large group of guests requested that their gratuity be given to two particular servers. We fully honored their request. Out of respect for our highly valued team members, we do not discuss the details surrounding the termination of an employee.”
In a follow-up statement, Oven & Tap owners Mollie Mullis and Luke Wetzel said, “The server who was terminated several days after the group dined with us was not let go because she chose to keep the tip money.”
“We recognize and regret that a recent incident in our restaurant could have been handled differently by reminding our team how we would be splitting any tips prior to the event, however, our policy has always been to participate in a tip pool/share with the staff. Tip sharing is a common restaurant industry practice that we follow to ensure all of our team members are adequately compensated for their hard work.”
Oven & Tap has still not specifically commented on why it fired Brandt, but Brandt told KNWA she believes it’s because she violated company policy by telling Wise that his party’s tip was going to be pooled.
Online Fundraising Campaigns for Brandt
After learning of Brandt’s firing, Wise created a GoFundMe, which ultimately raised $8,732 for Brandt.
“[Brandt] is, from what I can tell, a very kind woman that was working two jobs to get by through the pandemic,” he said in his initial post. “She has incredible aspirations to grow her own business and I can tell has a servants-heart.”
Wise provided an update Tuesday saying that instead of closing the GoFundMe, he will keep the campaign open to raise additional money to “pay it forward” to a future group of restaurant staff who will wait on his party.
“In January, we are going to host another $100 Dinner Club and I have invited [Brandt] to be our ‘Guest of Honor’!” he said. “Any dollar amount raised over the $8,732 that has already been raised and is being paid out to [Brandt] will be given directly to the staff of the restaurant we decide to eat at.”
“We will be working to ensure through this that all staff in the restaurant are tipped so everyone feels blessed by our dinner.”
As of Tuesday morning, the GoFundMe page has raised over $9,100.