Cutlets Sandwich Co., a modern twist on "the classic tri-state deli," also serves turkey subs, BECs, and a fried eggplant wedge.

By Maria Yagoda
July 29, 2020

If you grew up in the tri-state area, you grew accustomed to the immediate accessibility of chicken cutlet sandwiches. For Richard Zaro, of New York City's famous Zaro's Family Bakery, it was a childhood staple, but when he left the state for college, people didn't even know what chicken cutlets were.

He missed the old-school, Italian-influenced delis that pepper New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and other parts of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. "Across the country, there weren't these kinds of delis," he said, calling out those found in the New York metropolitan area specifically. "I saw a huge opportunity to nationalize the chicken cutlet."

Credit: Alexander Stein

Having grown up with Zaro's, he wanted to honor the specific deli tradition of his home region (and family business) while pushing it forward with Cutlets Sandwich Co., his new delivery-only sandwich concept that opened this week, starring fried chicken cutlets and other classic deli heroes and sandwiches.

Credit: Alexander Stein

A year ago, Zaro left the family business to pursue the cutlet concept—his first solo one—and even had a lease signed to open a retail space. COVID-19 escalated and shut down restaurants across the country right before the contract would have been binding; he pulled out, saved thousands of dollars of rent for a space he couldn't use, and pivoted the idea completely. "I took a couple months to regroup, and I decided to jump into this delivery thing," he said. "It made a ton of sense to start this way."

The Cutlets team is operating out of a kitchen in a Four Points Sheraton in Manhattan, delivering to most of the borough. Zaro hopes that once Cutlets expands to cover all of New York City, he can take the concept national, competing with the Jimmy John's and Potbellys of the world and opening retail spaces. In addition to a slew of chicken cutlet hero options, from a classic chicken parm to one stuffed with roasted red peppers and provolone, the menu reads like a hall of fame of deli standards.

"The delis I grew up with had great turkey, great chicken, and great egg sandwiches," said Zaro. "We stuck with the classics."

Credit: Alexander Stein

The classics are updated. Bacon is from Neuske's Applewood Smoked Meats, turkey is roasted in-house, mayo is Sir Kensington's, and all of the bread—seeded or unseeded rolls and heroes—come from Little Italy’s Parisi Bakery, baked fresh daily. (Ingredients are sourced from local operations when possible.) Add-ons include a few treats that you can't find at your hometown deli, including Maldon salt and fresh pesto, but also the essentials: aged balsamic, extra virgin olive oil, and cracked black pepper.

"There's a huge hole in the national sandwich market," he said. "We want to be the modern deli."