The legends, arguments and controversies surrounding the invention of “Flamin’ Hot Cheetos” have been so far beyond my common knowledge, as I have yet to enjoy these snacks like most Indians. Still, a brief investigation reveals that one of the most uplifting dramas, Flamin’ Hot, which is a highly inspiring film that highlights the food culture of the Latino community and the significance of the laborers in the corporate world, is a film that I have to criticize against my will. This is because this film, which successfully portrays the necessity of individuality, the drive to exhibit creativity and innovative thinking, and the confidence to fight for rights, do not exactly align with the truth. However, regardless of what’s true and what’s sugar-coated, if we’re talking about an inspirational film that conveys an important message about the unspoken part of the corporate world, Flamin’ Hot fulfills that role.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘Flamin’ Hot’?
Born into a Mexican immigrant family in California and raised in a migrant labor camp, Richard learned the art of living the hard way. Despite spending most of his childhood in poverty, Richard respected the weight of their surname and decided to bring it honor one day. From his early days of school in California, he realized the importance of food and its potential influence on consumers, helping bridge cultural differences. Although American kids often bullied him for his regular habit of eating burritos, one day, the bullies themselves fell in love with the taste of them. Keeping that in mind, Richard started selling burritos in school, creating hype about burritos among Americans long before even Taco Bell existed. But soon enough, he dropped out of school, leaving behind his academic life at a very early age, but one person that never left his side was his childhood sweetheart, Judy. Growing up, Richard (played by Jesse Garcia) embroiled himself in various illicit activities like working in gangs, dealing drugs, and often getting into gang wars. Despite this, Judy (played by Annie Gonzalez) remained by his side until she got pregnant with their first child. Judy didn’t want her husband to get into the illegal business anymore, as both of them needed to prepare for great responsibilities with their growing family.
Richard always had a drive for self-improvement, but his father consistently discouraged him. Having lived a life of struggle with no particular dreams to pursue, his father couldn’t grasp how much potential his son could have. But despite all the discouragements, Richard held a strong sense of self-confidence that he could provide for his family and raise his kids in a safe and secure environment. But with no formal education, it was hard for Richard to land a job. Finally, with the assistance of a friend from his previous gang affiliations, Richard secured a job in 1976 at one of the Frito-Lay factories in Rancho Cucamonga, working as a janitor. Although the position was modest, Richard began providing for his family in a legitimate manner. However, Richard’s ambitions were not suited for a confined role with limited opportunities, as he had always been a dreamer and a thinker. While working at the factory, Richard took notice of Clarence C. Baker, one of the mechanics managers, and through their friendship, Richard gained valuable knowledge about the machinery operations. Clarence identified Richard as an innovative individual who was always eager to learn and embrace new ideas and innovations. Among the crowd, Richard stood out as a visionary individual with a compassionate and empathetic nature toward his community and fellow workers. He also possessed a rebellious attitude and aimed to improve the situation of employees in a country dealing with a severe economic crisis.
How Did A Janitor Become A Marketing Executive?
In the early nineties, when a significant number of employees at Frito-Lay’s factories were losing their jobs, Roger Enrico (played by Tony Shalhoub), the CEO of PepsiCo, made a video for his employees urging them to think like CEOs amidst the crisis. Roger asked and motivated his employees to come up with new variations of Cheetos, Doritos, and other snacks to enhance their brand’s popularity in the market. Richard took this challenge personally, as he never limited his ambitions and thinking process, regardless of his job status. One day, while taking his kids to the park to enjoy some spicy corn called Elotes, the hot and fiery seasoning sparked an incredible idea in Richard’s mind. Elated, he rushed home and asked Judy to prepare this spicy-seasoned snack. Although Judy was initially skeptical, she had faith in her husband’s capabilities. She made the snack using a seasoning that Richard had never tasted before, evoking a sense of nostalgia and a homely feeling with its authentic Mexican ingredients.
Wasting no time, Richard presented his idea to the manager, but the firm’s employees didn’t appreciate an idea coming from a janitor. Thus, Richard took the risk of directly calling Mr. Enrico to pitch his innovative recipe. Fortunately, the receptionist at Enrico’s office didn’t dismiss Richard upon learning that he was a janitor and let him speak with Enrico. Enrico, who had always been an admirer of fresh and innovative approaches, attentively listened to Richard and requested samples of his creation. Excited at the chance to prove himself, Richard sent a box of hot Cheetos samples to Enrico, who found them finger-licking delicious. At the same time, Frito-Lay corporate employees and food scientists were also attempting to develop the taste using various lab-tested ingredients. However, none of their efforts could match the flavors of the seasonal vegetables and spices that Judy and Richard had used to create the most delectable snack.
Upon tasting the hot Cheetos, Enrico loved them instantly and appreciated Richard’s efforts. He decided to visit California to meet Richard in person. Richard prepared a speech and a marketing presentation after extensively reading dozens of books from the public library. However, upon Enrico’s arrival, Richard chose to represent himself and his dedication to doing something for the Latino community. He emphasized the importance of acknowledging the labor class, the often overlooked segment of the corporate world, from where valuable ideas could emerge, prioritizing the need for executives to listen to their input. Richard’s sincere and candid presentation impressed Enrico. Under his command, the marketing of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos started, but it struggled to attract a large number of consumers. To solve the issue, Richard rallied all the Frito-Lay employees and initiated an advertising campaign for the snacks. They promoted Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in various public places, neighborhoods, and stores, successfully attracting a significant number of customers.
Eventually, the production of Hot Cheetos skyrocketed, securing its prominent position within the Frito-Lay company. However, Richard Montanez, the former janitor, did not remain in that role. Roger Enrico offered him the position of marketing executive for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. The entire factory, filled with the employees and coworkers Richard had once worked alongside, cheered for his success. Richard excitedly shared the good news with his beloved Judy, and together, they began living their long-awaited dream. Richard Montanez continued to introduce various innovations, such as Flamin’ Hot Popcorn and achieved a successful and illustrious career at Frito-Lay. In 2020, after a remarkable journey, Richard retired from the company. Judy stood by his side through it all, and they brought up their family together.
Final Words: Why Did ‘Flamin’ Hot’ Avoid Showcasing The Controversies?
The story of Richard Montanez is undeniably inspiring, as he rose from being a humble janitor to becoming the Vice President of Frito-Lay. However, there has been a lot of ongoing controversy regarding his claim to be the inventor of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Multiple sources, including the Los Angeles Times article and Frito-Lay’s records, have provided evidence that Richard is not the actual inventor of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Instead, the seasoning for these Cheetos was developed by certain Frito-Lay corporate employees in the early nineties. Nevertheless, for over a decade, Richard Montanez has persisted in claiming that he invented Hot Cheetos and has presented some irrefutable evidence supporting his claims. However, it is important to acknowledge that by sitting in the corner of a room and reading numerous articles or relying solely on a memoir, we may never truly know the complete and accurate truth.
Conflicting accounts and disagreements will likely continue to cloud the actual facts. Therefore, let’s discuss why the director, Eva Longoria, chose to overlook this controversy in the film while focusing on Richard Montanez’s journey and the creation of Hot Cheetos. In my opinion, the film is not primarily concerned with the story’s authenticity. Instead, it aims to represent a specific culture through its culinary practices and explores how a snack company embraced and incorporated a particular community’s food culture. Furthermore, the film highlights the presence and contributions of a significant portion of the corporate world: the laborers. Regardless of the debates surrounding the claims and facts, I believe that Flamin’ Hot is an inspiring, captivating, and uplifting film that can evoke positive emotions and at least offer a hint of the history of one of America’s most beloved snacks.