It ain’t easy being cheezy

Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

Every Latino kid should know certain stories of inspiration, so it’s fitting that the one about how Cheetos Flamin’ Hot came to be is one for the history books. 

So here it is, in rapid-fire succession:  

Hispanic janitor cleaning up Cheetos spilled from a broken assembly line takes a bunch home, spices them up, returns to share with co-workers who go “Eejole, que tasty. Y caliente.” 

Said janitor, inspired by corporate message of acting like “owners,” calls company CEO (no one tells him he’s really not supposed to do that), who then flies to his Frito-Lay plant in northern California to hear a presentation about these new spicy Cheetos. Asked how much market share they could get, janitor freezes for a moment, thinks of actual aisles in markets, stretches his arms out and says, “This much market share.” 

Cheetos Flamin’ Hot are born and soon become one of the highest-selling products for PepsiCo, Frito-Lay’s parent company. Janitor buys several double-breasted suits, and an improbable, brilliant and lengthy career begins.  Whew. 

Genius, right?  Pues, sí, como no. 

And just as amazing as this story, and maybe not as cheesy, are the life experiences that propelled PepsiCo executive Richard P. Montañez into marketing greatness. They involve a burrito, a green bus and a cookie. 

Montañez told his story at a recent appearance in Phoenix: It’s lunchtime and he’s the only kid eating a burrito around him. Embarrassed, he puts his burrito back in the bag, goes home and asks his mom to make him a bologna sandwich con un Twinkie instead so he could fit in. His mom, a marketing genius herself, makes him two burritos the next day and says, “Here, make a friend.” The next day he’s selling ‘em for 25 cents cada uno! 

He’s still upset that he and the other Latino kids have to ride a green bus to school while the others get to roll up in a yellow one. Surely, the bus is a reminder to many who pick grapes for the wineries in the area: behave or back across the line they go. 

Then there’s the cookie. An after-school reading program brings two trailers to school; one is for the little brown kids and the other for every one else – but that one has cookies. The young, future spicy-Cheetos inventor says, “Forget this, I want a cookie.” Ignoring cries of “You’re in the wrong line, ese!” he says, “No, I’m not, this one has cookies!” 

Little Richard gets a big lump in his throat as he gets ready to enter the off-limits-to-brown-kids trailer and is met by two ladies, who fill his pockets with delicious cookies. 

At every step, he learned to not let anyone take away his glory and to believe that he is a genius. In his mind, he already had a Ph.D. He was Poor, Hungry and Determined. 

So, his presentation to corporate honchos years later really wasn’t that improbable after all. They would have never realized they had a marketing genius on their hands if the ex-burrito pusher would not have believed it first.

See this story in print here:

You must be logged in to post a comment Login