A Changing of the Guard at Camelot Cellars
An Olde Towne East wine bar undergoes a rebrand that mirrors the community it serves.
When Renard Green took over as owner of Camelot Cellars in early March, he knew a change was fitting for the 15-year-old wine bar. Nestled in Olde Towne East, Camelot has now become a thriving urban château, a far cry from its previous look and feel.
Before Green acquired the local spot, Camelot was known for its deep-rooted Italian influence, winning 41 medals in national and international wine competitions. Through numerous ownership changes, Camelot largely took up the same décor and style, offering classic Italian dishes to pair with its stockpile of housemade wines and imported wines.
But the new owner wanted to veer away from the stylings of conventional wineries. Instead, Green swapped out charcuterie boards and chandelier-filled ceilings for vibrant lights, a blaring hip-hop and R&B playlist and a menu filled with Southern comfort favorites such as collard greens, gumbo, po’boys and sweet potato cake.
“People are looking for places that are culturally different and give them a chance to experience that culture,” Green says. “And I think that’s what we’ve tried to do with Camelot that’s very specific to us.”
Wines are still made on premises, favoring a list of fruit-forward and semi-sweet white wines and dry reds. In addition, Camelot offers a make-your-own-wine program that’s ideal for groups. And with the addition of a full-scale liquor bar, featuring tropical cocktails as well as domestic and craft beer options, the winery has become a more well-rounded late-night social space.
Patron Tyler Armstrong, who’s lived in the Olde Towne East area for seven years, says walking in the rebranded winery was a completely new experience. “It’s very innovative,” he says. “It’s a nice twist on a traditional winery, and it may be what more wineries look like in the future.”
Green, who’s worked as a business consultant for 13 years, took up the ownership role from previous owner Janine Aquino, whom he helped advise while she ran the long-standing winery.
He wanted to create an environment that reflected his interests and truly felt like a Black-owned business, prompting the official switch to Camelot Cellars Urban Winery.
He also recognized the potential for additional revenue streams. Green stepped in with a new mission in mind: making it four businesses in one. Instead of solely relying on in-store sales, the new owner has focused on distribution, high quality service and making the venue a backdrop for events. The winery now hosts Wine Down Wednesdays, Fish Fridays and live musical performances throughout the week. “There’s a lot that can be maximized, and until I maximize all of it, then I’ll think we aren’t making any money. We got a bunch of different stuff we can do there,” Green says.
But just weeks after he acquired the long-standing bar from Aquino, the business faced restrictions due to the COVID-19 outbreak, forcing Green to rely on carryout and wine sales for nearly five months. When they weren’t taking in orders from Postmates, Green and his girlfriend made deliveries with “two bottles of wine and some hope” to keep the business afloat.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, the winery resumed dine-in on Aug. 29. Green says the reopening speaks to his hustle, a mindset that’s desperately needed during these times. “In COVID, you have to have 35 hustles,” he says.
Outside the effects of the coronavirus, Green says the biggest challenge has been adjusting expectations. Camelot’s rebrand has been met with criticism from longtime patrons, many of whom still favor the more traditional setup. Coupled with state-mandated limitations on occupancy, access to funding and drops in revenue, the winery has yet to reach its true potential, Green says. “We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, let’s be clear. What you’re seeing from my business is only 40 percent of what we could do, so think about how that changes revenue.”
While the winery has received pushback from former customers, Marlon Platt and other area business owners have embraced Camelot’s new direction. Platt, co-owner of Our Bar & Lounge, which sits across Oak Street from the urban winery, met with Green to help ease his transition into the historic neighborhood. After the two men connected, they held a collaborative brunch event as a part of their growing partnership. “I’m all about community support,” Platt says. “The fact that their business is in the same neighborhood as mine, I kind of already know the stuff that he’s going through with trying to grow and develop the business as a Black business owner.”
Platt says Camelot stands out because it mirrors the people that frequent the area’s latest developments. The winery joins Our Bar and Lifestyle Café as the three Black-owned businesses on the corner of Oak and South 18th streets. “It’s a natural synergy, so it’s truly like a Black-owned corner,” Platt says.
To strengthen the support of Black-owned businesses in the area, Green joined the Olde Towne East Neighborhood Association to ensure he can influence some of the potential changes being made, encouraging Platt and others to do the same. “I definitely want to have more of an intentional relationship, because we are a unique place,” Green says. “We need to strategize about how we can be more instrumental in some of the decisions that are happening.”