Flamin’ Hot Cheetos And The American Dream

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Richard Montañez grew up poor in a rural American town.

Now, he’s an executive at a major company. The former janitor is the epitome of rags-to-riches, and his success is a result of hard work, determination, and a little bit of chili powder.

Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images (via zimbio.com)

Montañez was born in Mexico but grew up in Guasti, a small town near Ontario, California. His family lived modestly, and his mother and father earned money by picking grapes for vineyards. As Montañez grew up in America, he struggled to learn English.

Because of his humble upbringing, Montañez didn’t have high aspirations. As he told Fox News, he wasn’t a big dreamer.

Mariya Dondonyan/Daily Trojan

“I had so much fun growing up that I never thought I lack of anything,” he said. “No disrespect to anyone, but my dream was to drive the trash truck.”

Montañez had academic difficulties due to his basic English skills, and eventually, he decided to drop out of high school.

He landed a job at the Frito-Lay Rancho Cucamonga plant, and one day, the president of Frito-Lay sent a message out to all the employees; the message told them to “act like an owner.” Montañez remembers his co-workers didn’t pay much attention to the advice.

“I looked around and didn’t see a lot of reaction from my co-workers,” he said, “but for me, it was the opportunity to do something different.”

Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images (via wearemitu.com)

Soon after, Montañez was on the job when one of the plant’s machines malfunctioned. As a result, some of the Cheetos didn’t get tagged with their characteristic dusting of bright-orange cheese. Montañez brought some of these unseasoned Cheetos home, treating them with his own blend of spices.

Montañez says his inspiration came from elotes, a Mexican street-corn recipe.

“I see the corn man adding butter, cheese, and chili to the corn and thought, what if I add chili to a Cheeto?” he recalled.


The janitor scrambled to prepare. At the meeting, Montañez recalled wearing a $3 tie while presenting his product to Frito-Lay’s top executives.

The Frito-Lay executives, of course, loved his idea.

Branded as Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, the product immediately sold well. Montañez rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the vice president of multicultural sales and community action for PepsiCo, the parent company of Frito-Lay.

Dan Gentil/Thrillist

Despite Hispanic races making up 16.7 percent of the U.S. population, they make up less than one percent of CEOs at top Fortune 500 businesses. However, Montañez hasn’t forgotten his roots; he works with a number of Latino charities, donating food, school supplies, and college scholarships.

“Latinos who have made it like myself have a responsibility to open doors to younger generations and teach them that they can do it,” he told NextShark. “I do it because I can and I know what it is like to be hungry.”

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