Our American Dream: The Janitor Who Invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos

Richard Montanez, had been a janitor at the Frito-Lay Rancho Cucamonga plant in California since 1976.

Richard Montanez, had been a janitor at the Frito-Lay Rancho Cucamonga plant in California since 1976.

Richard Montañez worked as a janitor at the Frito-Lay Rancho Cucamonga plant in California since 1976, but that all changed when he decided Cheetos needed an extra kick.

Call it luck or a craving, but for Montañez it all began while eating a cup of corn.

“I see the corn man adding butter, cheese and chile to the corn and thought what if I add chile to a Cheeto?” He asked himself.

It was an idea that would make him a legend. 

Richard ran to his mom’s kitchen, grabbed some spices and made a test, his friends and co-workers loved it, he called up the president of the company and said he had an idea for a new product - that was the easy part.

The difficult part was in the sell.

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How would janitor with zero-to-no English skills take a simple idea and turn it into a Flamin' Hot product?

“I had two weeks to prepare a presentation for the company executives,” said Montañez.

So, he copied a marketing strategy from a book he found at the library, “I’m a little bit of an artist so I even designed the bags and put the Cheetos in it,” Montañez explained.

The president  loved the idea and since then, the Flaming hot line of products was born, including Flamin' Hot Cheetos - which is Frito-Lay’s top selling snack.

Today, Montañez leads Multicultural Sales & Community Promotions across PepsiCo’s North American divisions. He still can’t believe the huge door he opened when he took up a challenge from the company president to think outside the box.

“Many times, greatness will come in ridiculous forms, a ridiculous idea might be a billion dollar idea,” says Montañez, and it certainly was.

Flamin Hot Cheetos influenced future ethnic products and the first Frito-Lay Hispanic marketing team. Montañez also helped influence Hispanic products and marketing promotions for KFC and Taco Bell.

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With his contagious enthusiasm, Montañez keeps fundamental message in mind: “Never let anyone tell you who you are. Be yourself!”  

Growing up he didn’t even know he was poor until someone told him, “I had so much fun growing up that I never thought I lack of anything,” Montañez remembered.

Growing up in a small town in Ontario, California, his days consisted of walking through miles and miles of vineyards picking grapes with his family, and sharing the food table with six or seven families at the community kitchen.

As a child, his life expectations weren’t very high.

“No one ever taught me what was on the other side of the tracks,” Montañez said. 

His dream, like the rest of his neighborhood friends, was to get a job at the town’s factory. 

“No disrespect to anyone, but my dream was to drive the trash truck,” he said.

But even as a child, sparks of Montañez's entrepreneurial spirit were obvious.

“I was on the Latino side of the school during lunch time, but everyone on the non-Latino side was staring at me, it was because I was eating a burrito,” said Montañez, who saw this as an opportunity. 

Three days later, he was selling burritos at his school for 25 cents a piece. He was only seven years old, but he had realized the value of being different.

“We’ve all been given an ability to do something great in this life,” he said.

But he couldn’t decipher what was his purpose in life and he dropped out of school.

“I regret it, but I didn’t understood the teachers and I felt they were holding me back,” Montañez said. 

Without a high school diploma, he got a job as a janitor at the Frito-Lay Rancho Cucamonga plant in California.

Montañez remembers that fateful day when the president of the company sent a video message to his employees.

“He told us to act like an owner, 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,” said Montañez, whose life was about to change forever.

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But where did Richard find all this courage? He said, it all stems back from growing up hungry.

“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," said Montañez  who lives in Rancho Cucamonga with his wife of more than 30 years, Judy Montañez. He is the father of three sons, and has four grandchildren. “Latinos who have made it like myself have a responsibility to open doors to younger generations and teach them that they can do it.”

Despite the success, he has been giving back to his community every day by providing college scholarships to young Latinos as well as food, clothing, school supplies and other services to people in need as part of Kits for Kids and Feed the Children. 


"Because I can and it’s my responsibility, I know what it is to be hungry,” he said.

Across the United States, in all fields of endeavor, Latinos are working to uphold their place in American society. Fox News Latino is proud to present "Our American Dream," a series of snapshots and profiles of Latino success stories.

Tania Luviano is the founder of Latina Mom TV, a Vlog for today’s Latina. Follow Tania @Latinamomtv.

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Tania Luviano is the founder of Latina Mom TV, a Vlog for today's Latina. Follow Tania @Latinamomtv