Frito-Lay has been unhappy for a while about Richard Montañez’s claims that he’s the inventor of the popular Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. This week you can bet they’re even less happy that the film portraying Montañez’s version of events just finished filming.
Deadline first announced back in August 2019 that former Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria was directing Flamin’ Hot. With a script written by Lewis Colick (October Sky), the film tells the story of Richard Montañez who began his Frito-Lay career as a janitor, and made a meteoric rise through the ranks to become a marketing executive. Using the flavors found in his community, Montañez came up with the flavor that became the incredibly popular Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. With an insatiable drive to excel, Montañez outwitted all his corporate rivals to get the snack food made.
The problem, according to Frito-Lay, is that Montañez’s story simply isn’t true. In a statement to the LA Times, the company called the story an “urban legend.” While the company said the part of Montañez’s story in which he rose through Frito-Lay’s ranks after starting as a janitor at their Rancho Cucamonga plant is absolutely true, that they had researched the subject at length and could find absolutely no connection between Montañez and the development of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Instead, the company says a team based in Plano, Texas began working on the new flavor in 1989 to compete with similarly spicy snacks. They say it was a relatively new employee named Lynne Greenfeld who came up with the name of the new Cheetos and developed the brand.
Responding to Frito-Lay’s claims in an interview with Variety, Montañez said he was not only the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos inventor but the company’s “greatest ambassador.” He said he couldn’t speak to the issue of Greenfeld and wouldn’t dispute her, because he had no way of knowing what Frito-Lay employees in other parts of the country were doing. He told Variety, “All I have is my history, what I did in my kitchen.”
Unfortunately for Frito-Lay, it doesn’t seem like it matters what they say about Montañez’s story. News broke yesterday, per Collider, that production wrapped on Flamin’ Hot. While not everyone’s roles have been announced, the cast includes Tony Shalhoub, Annie Gonzalez, Dennis Haysbert, Emilio Rivera, Matt Walsh, Pepe Serna, and more. The movie’s IMDb page lists Jesse Garcia as the actor portraying the self-proclaimed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos inventor Richard Montañez.
Longoria pushed back against Frito-Lay’s claims in June. Speaking to Remezcla, Longoria called Montañez’s story “inspirational [and] aspirational,” adding that “nobody can take that away from Richard.” The director no doubt felt supported by PepsiCo — Frito-Lay’s parent company — who released a statement (via CBS News) saying that while they did not support Montañez’s claims that he was the sole inventor of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, they did credit the “launch and success” of the product to “several people who worked at PepsiCo, including Richard Montañez.”
The film won’t be the first time Montañez’s story about Flamin’ Hot Cheetos has been told. According to the LA Times, Montañez is a hotly sought-after speaker who can rake in between $10 thousand and $50 thousand for speaking engagements. His memoir Flamin’ Hot: The Incredible True Story of One Man’s Rise from Janitor to Top Executive was released in June.