What we learned about the pursuit of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos

As July 4th approaches and we think about celebrating American independence, we can’t help but think of the pursuit of the American dream, painted with grit, determination and success often from humble beginnings.

The journey behind the garish and beloved Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (that are still a phenomenon today and completely disrupted the food industry) is one such story.

For one child, that dream, or lack thereof, sprung from a labor camp in Guasti, California. The son of Mexican immigrants, Richard Montañez, aspired to be a truck driver. Dropping out of school, and barely learning to read or write English, Montañez stumbled upon a job as a janitor at Frito Lay.

Legend has it that one of the machines faltered and Montañez was able to get his hands on some un-cheesed Cheetos to conduct his flavor experiments. He credits copying a recipe from a street vendor in his neighborhood that consisted of cheese, butter, lime and chilli which would typically be smothered on corn.

He was inspired by the CEO of Frito Lay at the time, who encouraged their employees to take initiative and to think like an owner. Montañez called him up, not realizing that calling a CEO as a janitor wasn’t something that was done.

And then, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were born! It wasn’t that easy, though. Montañez still had to pitch and market his idea to the executives with limited English and zero business acumen.

Armed with his drawing of the brand he envisioned, a marketing pitch recited from the public library and a $3-dollar tie, Montañez wowed the executives into thinking his idea was, well, flamin’ hot!

Now, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is a multi-billion dollar brand and Montañez is the vice president of branding and sales at Frito-Lay’s parent company, PepsiCo.

So, the next time you’re snacking on your Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or when you’re enjoying your July 4th celebrations, remember those who have had such determination in the pursuit of something greater and and something better. All of these people, including those in the day-to-day that are plugging away and working toward their goals, all contributed and continue to contribute to the fabric of the American dream and what it means to be American.

Happy Independence Day!

P.S. Don’t forgot to check out some of our favorite classic July 4th recipes here or you could try this Flamin’ mac and cheese recipe if you dare.