LA Times: The janitor who invented Flamin' Hot Cheetos actually didn't

Richard Montañez claims he invented Flamin' Hot Cheetos 30 years ago while he was a janitor at Frito-Lay, eventually rising through the ranks to become a top marketing executive there. He now gets paid between $10k and $50k to give a speech about his story. He has a new memoir coming out in June, Flamin' Hot: The Incredible True Story of One Man's Rise from Janitor to Top Executive (Penguin Random House). Eva Longoria is directing his biopic for Searchlight Pictures.

But according to Frito-Lay, the story is false.

"None of our records show that Richard was involved in any capacity in the Flamin' Hot test market," Frito-Lay wrote in a statement to The Los Angeles Times. "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, but the facts do not support the urban legend."

From the LA Times:

The Times spoke with 20 people who worked at the Frito-Lay divisions responsible for new product development 32 years ago, when Flamin' Hot Cheetos were first extruded into existence. None recalls anything like the episode Montañez describes taking place.

"If that story existed, believe me, we would have heard about it," said Ken Lukaska, who worked as a product manager for the core Cheetos brand when Flamin' Hots were rolling out nationally. "This guy should run for office if he's that good at fooling everyone."

From Variety:

[T]he Times article reports that a junior employee at Frito-Lay's corporate office in Texas named Lynne Greenfeld was assigned to develop the Flamin' Hot brand in 1989. According to the Times, she came up with the name, and helped bring the product to markets all over the U.S. Greenfeld contacted Frito-Lay in 2018 after hearing Montañez's story, triggering an internal investigation that concluded with the allegation that Montañez is not the inventor of Flamin' Hot Cheetos.

"We value Richard's many contributions to our company, especially his insights into Hispanic consumers, but we do not credit the creation of Flamin' Hot Cheetos or any Flamin' Hot products to him," Frito-Lay said in a statement to the Times.

Montañez told Variety he never heard of Greenfeld. "In that era, Frito-Lay had five divisions," Montañez told Variety. "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."

It's bizarre that Frito-Lay never said anything about the "urban legend" until now.