Columbus' Camelot Cellars: Cultural rebrand features hip-hop, R&B, Southern comfort foods

Earl Hopkins
Columbus Monthly

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.

Renard Green owns Camelot Cellars Urban Winery, 901 Oak St. in Columbus' Olde Towne East neighborhood.

Nestled at 901 S. Oak St. in Columbus' Olde Towne East, Camelot has 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 such Southern comfort favorites 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 said. “And I think that’s what we’ve tried to do with Camelot that’s very specific to us.” 

Wines still are 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 and domestic- and craft-beer options, the winery has become a more well-rounded late-night social space. 

Patron Tyler Armstrong, who has lived in the Olde Towne East neighborhood for seven years, said walking in the rebranded winery was a completely new experience.

“It’s very innovative,” he said. “It’s a nice twist on a traditional winery, and it may be what more wineries look like in the future.” 

Green, who has worked as a business consultant for 13 years, took up the ownership role from previous owner Janine Aquino, whom he had helped advise while she was running the longstanding winery. 

He wanted to create an environment that reflected his interests and that truly felt like a Black-owned business, he said, prompting the official switch to Camelot Cellars Urban Winery. 

Crab po'boy is among the Camelot Cellars menu options.

He also recognized the potential for additional revenue streams, he said. Green stepped in with a new mission in mind: making it four businesses in one. Instead of solely relying on in-store sales, he has focused on distribution, high-quality service and making the venue a backdrop for events. The winery now is host to 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," he said. "We got a bunch of different stuff we can do there.” 

But with a March 2020 opening shortly after acquiring the bar from Aquino, the business faced restrictions due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, forcing Green to rely on carryout and wine sales for nearly five months.

When they weren’t taking in orders from Postmates (an on-demand delivery and pickup platform), Green and his girlfriend made deliveries with “two bottles of wine and some hope” to keep the business afloat, he said. 

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, the winery resumed dine-in Aug. 29. Green said the reopening speaks to his hustle, a mindset he knows is desperately needed during these times.

“In COVID, you have to have 35 hustles,” he said. 

Outside the effects of the coronavirus, Green said, the biggest challenge has been the adjustment of expectations. Camelot’s rebrand has been met with criticism from longtime patrons, many who 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 said.

“We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, let’s be clear. What you’re seeing from my business is only 40% of what we could do, so think about how that changes revenue.” 

Although 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 neighborhood. After the two men connected, they held a collaborative brunch event as a part of their growing partnership.

Camelot Cellars Urban Winery is at 901 S. Oak St. in Columbus' Olde Towne East neighborhood.

“I’m all about community support,” Platt said. “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 said Camelot stands out because it mirrors the people who 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 said. 

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 said. “We need to strategize about how we can be more instrumental in some of the decisions that are happening.”

For hours of operation, reservations and more information, go to camelotcellars.com.

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