Photo by Catherine Catherine Downes

Food & Drink

Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Were Invented in Plano, We Now Know

Add the snack food classic to the list of great inventions to come out of North Texas.

A lot of world-changing inventions have come out of North Texas over the years. The integrated circuit. The frozen margarita machine. Liquid Paper. Doritos. (Related: There are several clues here that will help you in taking “The Biggest Baddest Most Dallas Quiz Ever” contained in the May issue of the magazine and going online in the not too distant future.)

There’s another product we could now add to that list, one that for my money may be the greatest invention our region has given humanity: the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto. It’s a classic in the junk food pantheon, beloved far and wide while making a bunch of money for Frito-Lay and becoming something of a pop culture meme—look to celebrities embracing Flamin’ Hot Cheeto Halloween costumes or to cupcakes sprinkled in Hot Cheeto dust for evidence.

For years, Richard Montañez has been the man who’s most loudly claimed to be the brains behind the potent snack. Montañez has a great story, recounted in the forthcoming memoir Flamin’ Hot and a biopic set to be directed by Eva Longoria. The son of a Mexican immigrant, Montañez was a janitor at a Frito-Lay factory in California in the late 1980s when he came up with the idea, pitched it to corporate, and through hard work and ingenuity turned himself into a successful businessman and in-demand public speaker. The only thing, according to a really swell piece in The Los Angeles Times I’m writing this blog post to point you toward, is that Montañez didn’t actually invent Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

It’s complicated, The Los Angeles Times reports. Montañez was a janitor at a Frito-Lay plant in California, and he did subsequently rise through the corporate ranks in part by pitching and marketing new products aimed at Hispanic consumers in southern California. These products did not, however, include Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. The Times reports:

“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.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate Richard,” the statement continued, “but the facts do not support the urban legend.”

Flamin’ Hots were created by a team of hotshot snack food professionals starting in 1989, in the corporate offices of Frito-Lay’s headquarters in Plano, Texas. The new product was designed to compete with spicy snacks sold in the inner-city mini-marts of the Midwest. A junior employee with a freshly minted MBA named Lynne Greenfeld got the assignment to develop the brand — she came up with the Flamin’ Hot name and shepherded the line into existence.

Why does this all matter? Well, lying is bad. And credit should be given where credit is due, although what’s especially sad about this particular story is that Montañez does deserve credit for his work with Frito-Lay. Often the myth is better than reality. But the reality here is that Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were invented in Plano. Trot that trivia item out as you please.

Read The Los Angeles Times story here.

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