When Joe Biden welcomed actress and director Eva Longoria to the White House for the screening of her dramatic documentary film Flamin last week, the president hailed once Mexican-American doorman Richard Montañez’s story as a “courageous” story.
“When I think of tonight’s movie, I think of the courage. So many of you, your ancestors left behind everything they knew to start a new life in the United States,” Biden told the crowd, before the president hugged the Desperate Housewives star and cracked an incomprehensible joke about her when she was 17. of her age. He was 40 years old.
Longoria told the gathering that Montañez’s story inspired her because she was told “no” during her career — or that ideas don’t come from people like her — and that she can’t do certain jobs because she’s a woman.
First Lady Jill Biden said Montañez helped change the way companies think about Latino customers, adding, “This movie isn’t just about Richard. It’s about everyone who’s been ignored or underestimated.”
But the Disney+ movie has now revived questions about whether Montañez actually came up with the hot, spicy Cheetos Flamin’ recipe while working at a Frito-Lay factory in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., in the late 1980s — he claims his idea was ripped off by company executives. — or if the chile-covered snack was the work of uncertified company workers for which he took credit.
According to a Los Angeles Times story in 2021 and another last week, the doorman turned CEO of Frito Lay didn’t invent Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. But he built a lucrative second career out of storytelling as a paid corporate speaker at Target, Walmart, Harvard, and UCLA, among others, and on two books, 2013’s A Boy, a Burrito, and a Cookie: From Janitor to Executive and 2021’s Flamin’ Hot: The stunning true story of one man’s rise from bouncer to top executive.
Montañez, he tells her, got some plain, unflavored Cheetos from the factory. He and his wife Judy developed a spicy condiment, applied it to Cheetos and sent samples to Frito-Lay executives.
But the Los Angeles Times He contradicted his claims, citing employee interviews that referred to the spicy snack originating in 1989 in Plano, Texas, before Montañez became an employee. The company said it was another Frito-Lay employee, Lynne Greenfeld, who developed and named the product.
In a statement to Eater last year, Frito-Lay — a US subsidiary of PepsiCo — said that “spicy, salty snacks have increased in popularity in recent years with the category increasing 12% in the past four years.” According to the surveys, the company added that more than half (55%) of American consumers have tried Cheetos Flamin’ Hot and 46% of Gen Z say they love them.
“We appreciate Richard’s many contributions to our company, especially his vision for Hispanic consumers, but we do not credit him with creating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or any Flamin’ Hot products,” the company told the outlet.
But she did acknowledge that Montañez had already worked on a line of snacks for the company in the early 1990s called Sabrositas. “I wouldn’t even try to discuss this lady,” he later told Variety, “because I don’t know.” “All I can say is what I did. All I have is my history, what I did in my kitchen.”
Montañez also said he felt “put down” by the pilot marketing process. In another 2021 statement, he acknowledged that “different work streams addressing the same product without interaction sometimes occurred in the past, when departments worked independently and were not the best at communicating.”
But by then, Longoria was already working on Flamin’ Hot and said the Los Angeles Times story “never affected us.”
“I feel like Los Angeles times “They will have better resources devoted to more important things,” she told the newspaper in March. We never set out to tell Chito’s story. We tell the story of Richard Montañez and tell his truth.”
Longoria added that she preferred to focus on Montañez’s rise through the Frito-Lay ranks. “His genius was the fact that he knew the Hispanic market and knew how to crowd them in,” she said.
But the Los Angeles Times returned to the disputed spicy Cheetos genesis account last week in review form. And it may have sparked the heated debate anew when columnist Gustavo Arellano wrote that “the details of the date don’t matter to Longoria; Mexican pride does.”
“Flamin’ Hot is the kind of black complacency that high school teachers screened their Mexican-American students when I was coming of age in the ’90s to make us feel better about ourselves,” wrote Arellano. No doubt teachers today would do the same for their students. This is what makes Flamen “hot not just pandering but sly.”
The White House later defended its decision to screen the film, with an anonymous official saying it was not a documentary but an opportunity for Americans from different backgrounds to see themselves reflected in the film and celebrated by the president, according to the Associated Press.
“Richard Montañez disrupted the food industry in the ’90s by channeling his Mexican-American heritage to help turn Flamin’ Hot Cheetos into today’s multi-billion dollar brand and cultural phenomenon,” said Longoria. “We are telling a story that celebrates the American entrepreneurial dream without ignoring the fact that the dream is not equally accessible to everyone.”