Richard Montañez has for years told a story of how he dreamed up Flamin’ Hot Cheetos while working as a Frito-Lay janitor. More than a dozen former employees, the archival record and Frito-Lay itself say otherwise. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
It goes like this: He was working as a janitor at Frito-Lay’s Rancho Cucamonga plant when he dreamed up a chile-covered Cheeto and believed in himself enough to call up the chief executive to pitch his spicy idea.
Corporate backstabbers tried to sabotage Montañez for stepping out of line, but he out-hustled them, driven by a hunger to succeed. Flamin’ Hots became a runaway hit, and Montañez rose through the ranks and became an icon.
Watching his many recorded speaking engagements, it’s easy to see why his story has taken off.
Montañez is a charismatic speaker, and his tale of a Mexican American underdog whose ingenuity conquered the corporate world is a rags-to-riches fable baked into the origin of a wildly popular snack.