How a Humble Mexican Janitor Accidentally Invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Changed His Life Forever
Behind every bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is the rags to riches story of an immigrant man who worked as a factory janitor and became a top-level executive after coming up with an incredibly genius idea.
Richard Montanez, a Mexican native, began working at the Frito-Lay Rancho Cucamonga plant in California as a janitor in 1976. Today, he is the executive leading multicultural sales and community promotions across PepsiCo’s North American divisions.
Montanez grew up in the small town of Gausti near Ontario, California, where he helped support his family by picking grapes in vineyards and ate meals at a communal table that was shared among six or seven other families. He lived modestly and didn’t want for much as a child. Many of the kids he knew hoped to land a job at the town’s factory. Montanez recalled to Fox News:
“No one ever taught me what was on the other side of the tracks. No disrespect to anyone, but my dream was to drive the trash truck.”
As a student, Montanez struggled with learning English and dropped out of high school as he couldn’t understand his teachers. Soon after, he got a job as a janitor at the Frito-Lay factory in Rancho Cucamonga, California. His life changed after Montanez heard a video message sent out by the president of the company. In the message, the president told his employees to act like an owner. He remembered:
“I looked around and didn’t see a lot of reaction from my co-workers, but for me it was the opportunity to do something different.”
As fate would have it, one of the assembly line machines broke one day leaving some Cheetos without their iconic bright orange cheese dust. Richard brought some home with him and had the idea to coat them with chili powder. His recipe for spicy Cheetos was inspired by a popular Mexican street food called elote. He recalled:
“I see the corn man adding butter, cheese and chili to the corn and thought, what if i add chili to a Cheeto?”
His friends and family loved his hot Cheetos and urged Montanez to share his creation with the plant supervisors. After talking the secretary into putting his call through, the president agreed to give him a shot at pitching his new product idea. He said:
“I had two weeks to prepare a presentation for the company executives.
“I’m a little bit of an artist so I even designed the bags and put the Cheetos in it.”
He and his wife made a trip to the public library and borrowed a book on business strategies. Montanez purchased his first-ever tie for $3 and went in to sell his hot Cheetos to the company executives. His idea of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos became Frito-Lay’s top-selling product.
Today he is an executive of the company he once worked as a janitor for and spearheads the Frito-Lay Hispanic marketing team. His work has influenced other Hispanic products and marketing promotions for giants including Taco Bell and KFC. Montanez believes his courage to seize opportunities stems from his humble beginnings. He said:
“The antidote to fear is hunger. When you have hunger for a job position, knowledge or a new house, you go and get it and fear will never get a hold of you.”
Montanez also gives back to the community by granting college scholarships to Latinos and donating food, clothing, school supplies and other services to the needy as part of Kits for Kids and Feed the Children. He explained the motivation behind his generosity:
“Latinos who have made it like myself have a responsibility to open doors to younger generations and teach them that they can do it. I do it because I can and I know what it is like to be hungry.”