The hectic lifestyle that accompanies being a Columbia student leads many to stay within the confines of campus. Some don’t have time to explore the city, while others often don’t know where to go. It is also especially disappointing to take the time to leave campus and return disappointed. Luckily, Columbia has its fair share of entrepreneurs, and a group of these go-getters decided to address this problem. Out of this collaboration came CHEATSHEET— a bimonthly publication advising students where to go when they leave campus. Bwog’s resident NYC explorer Samantha Herzog sat down with the producers of the publication for the story behind its inception.

Two of the charismatic boys behind CHEATSHEET are quick to tell you that they are simply the “nexus by which people gathered together, but not like masterminds or anything.” Masterminds or not, these boys, along with their colleagues, have tapped into an untouched journalistic market at Columbia.  CHEATSHEET, most commonly known for its bimonthly one page publication, is a quasi-club dedicated to informing, encouraging, and providing suggestions for students to get off campus and enjoy the city outside of Morningside Heights.

The bedrock of their brainchild is the crisp, one-page issue hand-delivered to their subscribers.  Each edition highlights 6  places to be in different neighborhoods and includes transit directions, dish recommendations, and short advice blurbs— all of which is fit into a neat, aesthetically pleasing layout. “There wasn’t really anyone on campus speaking for New York,” an organizer of the publication and Columbia College senior Zak Dychtwald explains, “and we’ve become really skeptical of NY Mag critic picks.”

Friend and fellow-manager Brian Bené, CC’12, jumps in— “and we all came to Columbia because we loved the idea of living in a city. We found that it is pretty hard to find places to go out in the city on a student budget, or even if you splurge, you want to make sure you are splurging in the right places.”

Their popularity expanded really quickly, and they now can boast about a subscribership of over 400, to who each issue is hand-delivered. “We literally carry it to everyone’s doors”, Zak laughs, “but it’s part of this sort of intimacy we want”. Brian quickly interrupts to let me know that each issue is individually stamped; “and we only have one stamp”, he jokes. Turning to Zak he adds that they “should probably buy another one of those soon.” Their passion for the project resonates as they talk about the way it all comes together every month. “It’s all very organic and so of-the-community,” Brian says casually. “It’s a very collaborative effort,” Zak echoes.

There are about fifteen regulars who distribute, write, and broker deals with restaurants and bars, or in other words, are consistent parts of the production process.  Outside of that editorial bunch, the collaboration efforts are on the part of and open to the whole Columbia community.  Suggestions and reviews can (and seem to) come from anyone and everyone.  Zak and Brian emphasize how eclectic and hardworking the team is, noting that they come from all demographics on campus.  It becomes pretty clear that CHEATSHEET is an organism devoid of strict hierarchies that has really thrived as a result of their diversity of opinions and backgrounds.

“We wanted to work with this grassroots model, to get a conversation on campus about New York going,” Zak elaborates, “we reached out to people and some people reached out to us to get involved. We tried to expand horizontally and incorporate lots of different groups on campus.” Nevertheless, starting CHEATSHEET was not quite as organic or seamless as the project feels now. “The stakes were a lot higher for us [as opposed to a college affiliated club],” Brian reveals.   “We did something completely from scratch and we put money behind something we didn’t know would be successful.” Brian reminisces about when they began putting the pieces together for their first issue. “I walked into this fancy paper store, saw this paper and knew it would be perfect for CHEATSHEET,” he recalls. “But it was so expensive, so I searched for it and found this bulk distributor, got them to cut it to the exact size and literally had it shipped to Lerner. Then I had to carry these two huge packages of paper back to my apartment.”

Jokes and struggles aside, the boys have grown to really enjoy working on the publication and hope to expand CHEATSHEET through events on campus and in bars or restaurants.“We’re thinking of having events at a bar with a special curated menu, wine and beer pairings –that kind of thing,” Brian explains, “so again it’s encouraging people to actually go places.” When asked about the future of their entrepreneurial venture, the boys look at each other and smile as if they’ve been asking themselves this question all semester. “We’re still trying to figure out what we’re doing next year but we’d like to pass it on,” Zak responds and looks to Brian who adds, “we’ve been living in the now, so we are going to do a little soul searching over winter break, talk to some people and see where we want this to go and how to make it sustainable.”

The cool, open charm of these two seniors captures so much of what their product aims to be: an undiscriminating plea to their peers to go out and experience New York. At the end of the day, “CHEATSHEET is just there as fun insurance,” Zak grinningly says.