It may sound like an odd question to ask, especially if you’re a fan of the series CNBC Make It. According to the episode titled “How Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Became America’s Favorite Snack” (an excerpt from which follows), the sensation was the brainstorm of a janitor at Frito-Lay named Richard Montañez.
“Montañez not only dreamed up a chile-covered Cheeto,” the Los Angeles Times notes, but “believed in himself enough to call up the chief executive to pitch his spicy idea.”
Montañez has built a lucrative second career out of telling and selling this story, appearing at events for Target, Walmart, Harvard and USC, among others, and commanding fees of $10,000 to $50,000 per appearance.
As rags-to-riches stories go, Montañez’s Horatio Alger tale is hard to top.
Just one problem: Montañez didn’t actually invent Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, according to multiple former Frito-Lay employees.
“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 Times, in response to questions about an internal investigation whose existence has not been previously disclosed. “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.
Ah, well. An entrepreneur can still dream.