+
upworthy
Heroes

The incredible tale of how a Frito-Lay janitor pitched his billion-dollar idea to the CEO

The incredible tale of how a Frito-Lay janitor pitched his billion-dollar idea to the CEO

Editor's Note: In May 2021, Frito-o-Lay disputed aspects of Montañez's story, which are collected in this story reported by the Los Angeles Times. Montañez stood by his story in a follow-up interview with Variety. The original story begins below.


Occasionally you read a story that sounds so much like a movie script you question whether it's real or fake. The tale of how Flamin' Hot Cheetos was invented is one of those stories.

Ankith Harathi shared how the beloved spicy snack came about in a viral Twitter thread, and it's a must-read.

Harathi wrote:

"A janitor making $4/hour walked into a Fortune 500 company boardroom. Shaking, he took a seat opposite the CEO.

'So I had an idea...' he nervously began.

Years later, that idea would become an iconic consumer brand and make him worth ~$20M.

Here's how that meeting went 🧶👇


Richard Montañez grew up in Cucamonga Valley, California, sharing a one-room cinderblock hut with 14 family members.

He dreaded school. Barely able to speak English, he'd cry to his mother as she was getting him ready for class.

When asked, all other students in class would eagerly shout out their dream job: Astronaut, Doctor, Racecar driver.

Richard had nothing to say. 'There was no dream where I came from.'

He dropped out of school in 4th grade and took odd jobs at farms and factories to help make ends meet.

Some years later in 1976, a neighbor let him know of a job opening for a factory janitor at the Frito-Lay plant down the road. The $4/hour pay was more than he'd ever made.

As he was getting ready for his first day of work, his grandfather pulled him aside and said:

'Make sure that floor shines. And let them know that a Montañez mopped it.'

Richard made it his mission to be the best janitor Frito-Lay had ever seen.

He spent his off-time learning about the company's products, manufacturing, marketing and more. He even asked salesmen to tag along and watch them sell.

In the mid-1980s Frito-Lay started to struggle. The CEO announced a new initiative to all 300,000 employees. 'Act like an owner' Trying to empower them to work more creatively and efficiently.

Montañez listened.

Then, he called the CEO.

'Mr. Enrico's office. Who is this?'
'Richard Montañez, in California'
'You're the VP overseeing CA?'
'No, I work at the Rancho Cucamonga plant.'
'Oh, so you're the VP of Ops?'
'No, I work inside the plant.'
'You're the manager?'
'No. I'm the janitor.'

The CEO got on the line. Loving the initiative, he told Richard to prepare a presentation, and he set a meeting in 2 weeks time.

Stunned, Richard ran to the library and picked up a book on marketing strategies. Then, he started prepping. 9) 2 weeks later, he entered that boardroom.

After taking a moment to catch his breath, he started telling them what he'd learned about Frito-Lay and the idea he'd been working on.

'I saw there was no product catering to Latinos.'

On the sales trips he shadowed he saw that in Latino neighborhoods Lays, Fritos, Ruffles, and Cheetos, were stocked right next to a shelf of Mexican spices. Frito-Lay had nothing spicy or hot.

The Latino market was ready to explode, Montañez explained.

Inspired by elote - a Mexican street corn covered in spices - Richard had created his own snack

He pulled out 100 plastic baggies. He had taken Cheetos from the factory and coated them in his own mix of spices.

He'd even sealed the bags with a clothing iron, and had hand drawn a logo on each one.

The room went silent.

After a few moments, the CEO spoke, 'Put that mop away, you're coming with us.'

Flamin' Hot Cheetos became one of the most successful launches in Frito-Lay history. They went on to become a viral, pop-culture sensation.

Richard became a VP and amassed a $20M fortune.

Not bad for a boy from Cucamonga."

This story has so many heroes. First, Montañez's grandfather, who taught him to work hard and take pride in his work no matter what it was. Second, Montañez himself for having the gumption to share his idea, the initiative to quickly gather the skills he needed to present it, and the courage to approach the CEO in the first place. And finally, the CEO who was open-minded enough to hear an idea from one of his enormous company's janitors and give him the accolades and position he deserved.

Montañez now gives speeches to help inspire others to honor their uniqueness and embrace standing out from the crowd.


See more details of his story—including how he had simply looked up the CEO's phone number in the phone book, not really knowing that that's not something people did— in his interview on The Passionate Few:

How The Multi-Billion Dollar HOT CHEETOS Idea Was Born! (Creator, Richard Montanez Interview)www.youtube.com

Pop Culture

Two brothers Irish stepdancing to Beyoncé's country hit 'Texas Hold 'Em' is pure delight

The Gardiner Brothers and Queen Bey proving that music can unite us all.

Gardiner Brothers/TikTok (with permission)

The Gardiner Brothers stepping in time to Beyoncé's "Texas Hold 'Em."

In early February 2024, Beyoncé rocked the music world by releasing a surprise new album of country tunes. The album, Renaissance: Act II, includes a song called "Texas Hold 'Em," which shot up the country charts—with a few bumps along the way—and landed Queen Bey at the No.1 spot.

As the first Black female artist to have a song hit No. 1 on Billboard's country music charts, Beyoncé once again proved her popularity, versatility and ability to break barriers without missing a beat. In one fell swoop, she got people who had zero interest in country music to give it a second look, forced country music fans to broaden their own ideas about what country music looks like and prompted conversations about bending and blending musical genres and styles.

And she inspired the Gardiner Brothers to add yet another element to the mix—Irish stepdance.

Keep ReadingShow less
Science

Should we wear shoes in the house? Experts weigh in and turns out we should stop immediately.

It's a common practice in the west that may be grosser than we realize.

Experts seem to agree that shoes shouldn't be worn inside

Growing up nearly everyone knew of one house that didn't allow people to wear shoes inside. It didn't matter if you accidentally wore your socks with the hole in them, there were no exceptions–shoes off. For many folks it was just seen as a quirk for that particular family and there wasn't much thought given into why they were adamant about enforcing the rule.

But it turns out that wearing shoes inside is more of a western culture thing than a global one, which makes Americans a minority in keeping outside shoes on while inside the house. It would seem that other countries may have had a bit more of an understanding on why it's a bad idea to wear shoes inside.

Common sense tells us that wearing shoes inside means you'll be sweeping and mopping more often than you'd like. Of course you track in dirt but there are apparently hundreds of bacteria and fungi that you're tracking in that can cause your family to get sick.

Keep ReadingShow less

It's rare enough to capture one antler being shed

For those not well versed in moose facts, the shedding of antlers is normally a fairly lengthy process. It happens only once a year after mating season and usually consists of a moose losing one antler at a time.

It’s incredibly rare for a bull moose to lose both at the same time—and even more rare that someone would actually catch it on film.

That’s why shed hunter (yes, that’s a real term) and woodsman Derek Burgoyne calls his footage of the phenomenon a “one-in-a-million” shot.

Keep ReadingShow less
Photos by Daniela on Unsplash (left) and Rens D on Unsplash (right)

Peeling garlic is notoriously challenging.

If you ever cook with fresh garlic, you know what a challenge it can be to remove the cloves from the skin cleanly, especially if you're starting with a full head.

There are various methods people use to peel garlic, with varying levels of success. Doing it by hand works, but will leave you with garlic-smelling fingertips for the better part of a day. Whacking the head on the counter helps separate the cloves from each other, but doesn't help much with removing the skin.

Some people swear by vigorously shaking the skinned cloves around in a covered bowl or jarred lid, which can be surprisingly effective. Some smash the clove with the flat side of a knife to loosen it and then pull it off. Others utilize a rubber roller to de-skin the cloves.

But none of these methods come close to the satisfaction of watching someone perfectly peeling an entire head of garlic with a pair of tongs.

Keep ReadingShow less
Modern Families

‘Hard pill to swallow’: Mom shares why some adult children don’t talk to their parents

"How your kids treat you when they are no longer in need of food and shelter, is a direct reflection of how you made them feel when they needed you to survive."

Parent and child deal with the pain of estrangement.

Even though humans are biologically hard-wired to form strong attachments to our parents, in many cases, these relationships become estranged as the children age. A recent poll found that nearly 1 in 4 adults are estranged from their families.

Six percent are estranged from their mothers and 26% have no contact with their fathers. It’s believed that these days, more children are comfortable distancing themselves from their parents because it’s good for their mental health.

“I think it relates to this new desire to have healthy relationships,” Rin Reczek, a sociology professor at the Ohio State University, said, according to The Hill. “There might be some cultural shifts around people being allowed to choose who is in your family. And that can include not choosing to have the person who raised you be in your family.”

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

Loretta Lynn's granddaughter wows 'American Idol' judges with raw original song

Emmy Russell's original song "Skinny," featuring lyrics about body image and eating disorders, nearly brought everyone to tears.

America Idol/Youtube, Promotional image of Loretta Lynn/Wikipedia

Emmy Russell (left) and her grandmother Loretta Lynn (right)

Emmy Russell, granddaughter of country music icon Loretta Lynn, proved that she was an artist in her own right during a recent episode of “American Idol.”

The 24-year-old singer-songwriter from Nashville auditioned in front of judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan during the show's Feb. 25 episode, during which she opened up about wanting to not live in her grandmother’s shadow.

"She's one of the biggest country music singers of all time, but to me she's just Grandma," she said, adding "I think I am a little timid, and I think it is because I want to own my voice. That's why I want to challenge myself and come out here."

Keep ReadingShow less