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Here’s The Inspiring Story Of How A Janitor Invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos And Became A Multi-Millionaire

Screenshot WKNO/YouTube

To get into this story, we have to go back before Flamin’ Hot Cheetos existed.

We will give you a moment to get into that difficult headspace.

Ready?

OK.

In the late 1980s, Richard Montañez was making $4 an hour as a janitor at Frito-Lay. He had an idea he believed could turn the struggling company around, so he walked into a Fortune 500 boardroom and pitched his idea to the CEO.

But to get to the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos meeting, it’s important to understand how Montañez got here. A first-generation Mexican immigrant, Montañez grew up in California, living in a one-room cinderblock hut with 14 people.

His schooling was short lived as well. Montañez dropped out in fourth grade and worked odds jobs, mostly on farms and factories. In 1976, he got the opportunity that would change his life: a janitorial role at Firto-Lay. The $4/hour pay was the most he had ever made.

On his first day, his grandfather offered this advice:  “Make sure that floor shines. And let them know that a Montañez mopped it.”

And Montañez was a dedicated employee. He put his all into his job, even going out of his way to learn about company products, manufacturing, marketing – basically, every aspect of a business. 

The studying served him well. In the 1980s, Frito-Lay was struggling financially and the CEO thought to involve all 300,000 employees in overhauling the company.

He pulled from his extracurricular experience at Frito-Lay, got some ideas together, and called the CEO directly.

He had two weeks to prepare, and boy did Montañez prepare.

He recognized a big hole: the company didn’t have any products catering to Latinx communities. He suggested Frito-Lay add a little spice to their product lineup. 

He went further and brought out product samples he created. Inspired by Mexican street corn, also known as “elote,” Montañez created his own mix of spices and coated Cheetos with it. 

Shortly after the meeting, plans for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were put in place. The launch was one of the most successful in Frito-Lay history.

Montañez became a vice president and is now worth $20 million.

Lead image: Screenshot WKNO/YouTube.

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Written by Lindsay Patton