Since the late 2000s, Richard Montañez has claimed that he invented the ever-popular and virally beloved Flamin' Hot Cheetos. As he tells it, he was working as a janitor at a Frito-Lay plant in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., when he realized that the company wasn't performing as well in the Hispanic market because none of its snacks were spicy.
Richard took it upon himself to create a spice blend that he pitched to executives at the company. His invention was a hit — and the rest, as they say, is history. There's even a film about it, titled Flamin' Hot, which it's based on Richard's memoir, A Boy, a Burrito and a Cookie: From Janitor to Executive.
However, a May 2021 report from the Los Angeles Times claimed the story is a lie. So, if Richard didn't create Flamin' Hot Cheetos, how did he become the C-suite executive he claimed to be? Plus, what's his net worth?
What is Richard Montañez’s net worth?
Once the new spicy Cheetos became a massive success, Richard said he quickly rose through the ranks of Frito-Lay. When he first supposedly came up with the idea for the iconic spicy snack, Richard was actually a "veteran machine operator" at the Rancho Cucamonga plant. But he quickly rose the ranks in "climbing the corporate ladder."
"Montañez made it, from rags to riches, from factory floor to corporate suite," the Los Angeles Times reports. "He just didn't make Flamin' Hot Cheetos." Richard retired in 2019, and today, he makes most of his income from motivational speaking engagements, as well as the two books he penned, which detail his inspiring story.
Author and businessman
Net worth: $15 million
Richard Montañez is an author and businessman best known for his claim of having invented Flamin' Hot Cheetos.
Birthdate: Aug. 15, 1958
Birthplace: Ontario, Calif.
Marriages: Judy Montañez (m. 1980s)
Children: Three sons
Along with the income from his books and speaking engagements, Richard will likely receive compensation from the Eva Longoria-directed biopic detailing his life. And while the exact salary he made at Frito-Lay is unknown, Wealthy Rich Celeb estimates that Richard has a net worth of around $15 million.
So, did Richard Montañez actually invent Flamin' Hot Cheetos?
Although Richard appears to still be sticking to his story of being the inventor of Flamin' Hot Cheetos, many are now calling his account into question after the Los Angeles Times exposé. Plus, there was even an internal investigation at Frito-Lay that concluded that the spicy snack was not the brainchild of Richard and had actually hit markets two years before Richard says he invented the Flamin' Hotline.
Richard disputed the L.A. Times article and Frito-Lay's claims on May 16, 2021.
"In that era, Frito-Lay had five divisions. 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," he told Variety. "All I can tell you is what I did. All I have is my history, what I did in my kitchen."
A few days later, on May 24, 2021, PepsiCo issued a lengthy statement in support of Richard Montañez: "The sincere truth is, at PepsiCo, we believe in the strength and power of teams, and we attribute the launch and success of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and other products to several people who worked at PepsiCo, including Richard Montañez."
"Far from being an urban legend, Richard had a remarkable 40-plus-year career at PepsiCo and made an incredible impact on our business and employees and continues to serve as an inspiration today," they said.
PepsiCo continued, "His insights and ideas on how to better serve Hispanic consumers were invaluable and directly resulted in the success of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. To be clear, we have no reason to doubt the stories he shares about taking the initiative to create new product ideas for the Cheetos brand, and pitching them to past PepsiCo leaders."