New York City's Duran Sandwiches Let You Create Your Own Lunchtime Smorgasbord

It's not often that a television producer and journalist switches gears so dramatically, but Tamás Szebeni went from shooting the Hungarian version of American and British entertainment shows like X Factor, Dancing with the Stars, Big Brother, Hungary's Got Talent,  and other news programs and documentary films to operating a quaint—and delicious—sandwich shop in Gramercy. Today, he still does voiceover work for Master Chef from his New York City apartment, but dedicates most of his time to running Duran, whose visually petite and masterful creations that can be seen from down the block. The Daily Meal spoke to him to get the scoop.

The Daily Meal: Where did inspiration for these types of sandwiches first strike?
Tamás Szebeni: 
In Hungary, the sandwiches that are available are very big, double-breaded, with only four options and they left me feeling very heavy. When I had a break in between shooting, I would go to Duran Sandwiches, which was close to the TV station. I liked how one day I could have a seafood sandwich and the next day, I could have a vegetarian sandwich. At Duran, I can eat differently every day. I would eat way too much with the traditional sandwiches, which like anywhere in the world are large. Duran Sandwiches are small, so you can eat four to five different sandwiches for lunch and choose from a world of flavors.

What made you decide to move from Hungary to New York City and open a sandwich shop?
As a TV producer, I worked long hours, from 8 a.m. to past midnight. It was too much, and I wanted something different. I talked with the Hungarian "Duran Sandwich" owner and said I would like to open a location in New York City, what do you think? She said it was a wonderful idea, and we met with Tomas Jr. and Eva Duran, the children of the original Duran Sandwich owners, Tomas and Vladimir, who died 10 years ago.

Now, I am the franchise owner of the USA Duran Sandwiches. Many locations caught my eye, but suddenly we saw this beautiful space that was very clean, with a lot of glass windows and we were immediately drawn to it, and there the story began. From scratch, we had to build a complete business and cuisine, similar to the production of television programs. The process took several months, but I had experience with cooking and food from my background working on the Hungarian Master Chef show.

Each little sandwich is like a slice of creativity...tell me about your creative process.
The recipes were taken from the Duran Sandwiches founders, brothers Tomas and Vladimir, based on traditional Austrian recipes. Last summer, we perfected the recipes and designs for all the sandwiches and taught our New York team how to make them. After four months of practice and hard work, everyone knows how to make them. But we have three new sandwiches that are my recipe, the vegan selections— vegetable chutney, sundried tomato, and avocado.

How do you see your menu changing as the weather changes?
The weather affects and changes eating habits. When it is really hot, you may prefer a lighter sandwich like the vegetarian or vegan selections, and we sell more cucumber and cheese or sundried tomato. When the weather is more cool, we sell more meat sandwiches, like the spicy Hungarian salami or roast beef. The popular lobster salad and salmon sell in all seasons.

Have you been surprised by how the sandwiches were received, in a good way?​
Though the open-faced sandwiches are less common in the U.S. than Europe, most of our customers welcomed the new flavors. We are receiving very positive comments about the distinguishing flavors and the aesthetic appearance, and the non-messy way of consuming our sandwiches. The growing number of individual and corporate company orders prove that this healthy and convenient concept can stand in the food and restaurant market.

What are your five favorite sandwiches?
Perhaps the Hungarian Spicy Salami, that brings some nostalgia of my home country, and the Maine lobster salad that stays on the top list of most of our customers.  

Did presentation play a big part in how you conceptualized your menu and offerings?
It is not enough just to provide quality products to your customers. Our window represents almost all varieties of sandwiches we produce fresh throughout the day in the kitchen. Each sandwich is handmade like a piece of cake. The display has a tempting variety of different flavors and colors.

For more New York City food stories, click here.