On any given night before the pandemic, Nikeisah Newton traveled the length of greater Portland. “All the way east to 250th,” she says. “To the Dancin’ Bare. Back downtown. Out to the Gold Club, on Southeast McLoughlin.”
Her business, Meals 4 Heels, delivers hot, healthy meals to people working in the sex industry. Made with dancers in mind, Newton’s recipes avoid ingredients that might cause bloat or gas. They’re well spiced, but judicious about garlic and onions.
Most importantly, Newton’s recipes pack a lot of power because it takes energy to work it up and down a pole.
The idea came to Newton after she saw fast food wrappers in her ex-girlfriend’s car. Her ex was working at a strip club at the time and told Newton she often got off work too late to find something healthy to eat. Newton—a longtime restaurant worker—started cooking meals for her. And her co-workers started noticing and asked if they could pay to have meals brought to them too.
Originally called Meals 4 Six-Inch Heels, Newton honed her takeout and catering business as she went. Now Newton’s Meals 4 Heels occupies a little kitchen with a walk-up window at the Redd on Salmon, a detached building on the Central Eastside. Her brick-and-mortar keeps different hours than her delivery business—lunch hours Wednesday through Saturday. She caters birthday parties and baby showers for her sex worker clientele.
But as clubs reopen, Newton hopes dancers will put in more orders.
“I miss that clientele, personally,” she tells WW. “Sex workers are, by far, the best clients and some of the best tippers.”
The legal status of sex workers will be a high-profile debate in 2022, as advocates collect signatures for a ballot initiative to strike prostitution from Oregon’s criminal statutes. We asked Newton about that. But for now she’s concentrating on other kinds of aid—not just providing delicious and healthy food, but safety and understanding.
WW: What kind of business is Meals 4 Heels? Is it nonprofit? For profit?
Nikeisah Newton: Absolutely for profit. We’ve been open since Jan. 25, 2019. A lot of people still think we are a charity, and obviously that’s something to consider. Why do people think a service for sex workers would be a charity?
You do a lot of good works. Not only feeding dancers, but activists.
Feeding strippers was how it started. But that’s been super rare since the pandemic. When the clubs closed down for COVID, my clientele dropped like 80%. I’d say most of my customers now are the general public, and social or activism groups. We’ve catered meals for the Q Center, Don’t Shoot Portland, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon. We made meals for a vaccination clinic.
When sex workers moved to cam or remote work, were you still able to deliver to them?
Some kept in contact, but a lot of my early clients ordered over social media, and now anyone who puts “sex work” in their profile risks it being taken down or put on hold. So that impacted my business and slowed it down.
Now that the clubs are back open, can workers order through your site?
Yes, but I don’t have as much of a presence as I once did in the strip clubs because there’s a turnover every couple years. A new wave of workers comes in.
I started out very grassroots so this feels like an opportunity to go at it strong and reintroduce myself with more professionalism. Promo code. SMS. Things like that. There’s a demand, so I just have to remind them I’m still out here.
There’s a petition that voters might see on the ballot soon called the Sex Worker Rights Act. The aim is to decriminalize sex work.
I’m aware, I’ve been asked to get involved with it.
Will you campaign on behalf of the measure?
As soon as I get more information about it, I’ll be able to tell you. I’ve worked on other things, like the CROWN Act [which expanded Oregon’s anti-discrimination laws to include hair texture and styles like locs, braids and twists]. If the bill sounds correct, then I’ll support it. As long as the wording is correct, I would actively campaign to decriminalize sex work. I need to see what specifically is written.
What don’t people understand about workers in the clubs?
They’re people. They’re people that choose their job. It’s not forced upon them. They’re members of our community.
I think about the comments from a Fox News article that was written about Meals 4 Heels. Negative things people said like, “Why am I concerned with this?” People are really uncomfortable with sex workers, that they are taking their own power and controlling their own bodies—and their money, at that.